Is it safe to eat on a plane or a lounge after you’ve been vaccinated?

Apr 12, 2021

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More than 18% of Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and some of those people are thinking of hitting the road for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic brought the travel industry to a halt.

If this is your first time on a flight or at an airport lounge since the pandemic, you’ll quickly realize that food and drink policies have changed.

Many lounges have drastically reduced service and amenities — and cut back on food — while some airlines are encouraging flyers to use “nonverbal” ordering in the air.

Travelers got some good news in early April when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated Americans could travel at “low-risk” to themselves.

But is it really safe to eat on a plane or at your (likely indoor) airline lounge, even if you’ve been vaccinated?

Here’s what we know.

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Is it safe to eat on a plane after being vaccinated?

We know that the current vaccines are pretty effective in keeping you from contracting COVID-19.

But what’s still unclear is how well the vaccines prevent people from spreading the virus and how long vaccinated people are protected from the disease.

There are no specific guidelines from the CDC for eating indoors or on an airplane. However, the agency has said infection is lower for fully vaccinated people, so there is likely a reduced risk while eating or drinking on a plane or at a lounge if proper safety measures — such as good hand hygiene — are taken.

Whether you are vaccinated or not, keeping your mask on will limit your chances of exposure during your flight. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

“Take a mini portable fan in your carry-on and prop it on your tray table. Remember that the virus is airborne, so do as much as you can to limit unmasked breathing,” said Steve Swasey, the vice president of communications at Healthline (which is also owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures).

The CDC still advises people to take precautions, mainly because the risk of transmission is higher and “likely increases” if more people around you are unvaccinated. The CDC says fully vaccinated people dining indoors (such as at an airport lounge) should still avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Related: Inflight service is resuming — here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

What to know about eating at a lounge or on a plane

Each airline and lounge has its own policy regarding eating and drinking during the pandemic, but they are, generally, all the same.

Guests visiting airport lounges and passengers on an airline must wear a face covering except when eating or drinking.

So, you can briefly remove your mask to eat or take a sip of your drink, but you shouldn’t keep it off for long periods. This isn’t just an airline or lounge rule, either — it’s federal law.

Even if you are grabbing a quick bit or sip, you need to keep your mask on as much as possible. (Photo by FG Trade/Getty Images)

Related: New CDC requirement mandates wearing masks on planes, public transit

Airlines and many forms of public transportation already required face masks. But this rule, introduced in late January, empowered frontline workers such as flight attendants who, at times, have struggled to get travelers to comply with mask-wearing mandates.

Masks may be removed for “brief periods of time” — we’re looking at you, slow sippers — while eating, drinking or taking medication; communicating with a person who has difficulty hearing; or during Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening.

“The best advice is to always wear your mask in public, which limits eating or drinking,” Swasey said. “If you can’t wait for a bite or to quench your thirst, go ahead but replace your mask as soon as you’re finished.”

Related: What the heck is a HEPA filter? How airplane air stays clean

Bottom line

While vaccinated travelers are at less risk, you should still be mindful of how long your mask is down while eating and drinking.

That’s because there’s still a risk for unvaccinated travelers — and in addition to mask mandates still being very much in effect (regardless of your vaccination status), it’s simply the right thing to do.

Featured photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images.

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