Experts can agree on one thing: The safest way to travel after being pent up for months in quarantine and isolation is by car. That’s the opinion of medical, travel, and statistical experts consulted by Conde Nast Traveler to examine and weigh the relative risks when traveling by commercial airline, Amtrak, or private cars during the pandemic.
First, medical experts said that it’s important to evaluate if travel is even safe for you or your family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns on its website that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”
As far as air travel is concerned, the CDC notes that passengers will be spending a lot of time in security lines and airport terminals, which can “bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.” The good news is that most aircraft have high-grade HEPA filters that efficiently clean the air on board, removing 99.999% of airborne particles. Delta and Southwest are blocking middle seats to increase physical distancing.
Traveling by train has distinct advantages over air travel, as many Amtrak stations are outdoors. But the CDC advises that “traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within six feet of others,” according to Conde Nast Traveler. Amtrak has announced that it is limiting its bookings on board, and it allows solo passengers to have an empty adjacent seat.
That brings us to automobile travel. While it’s obvious that traveling in your own vehicle appears to be the safest mode of transportation, the CDC warns that “making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and surfaces.” If you are renting a vehicle, the top car rental agencies said they’ve pledged to update their cleaning routines upon check-in.
Chris Hendel, a medical researcher and consultant with the USC Gehr Family Center for Health Systems Science and Innovation, tells Conde Nast Traveler:
“I think traveling by car is the safest option right now, in part because you’re not traveling with another person whose risk for infection may be unknown. Essentially, you aren’t sharing the breathing space with someone who could be infected. I think train travel might possibly have an edge over air travel. Regardless, everyone should be wearing a mask on the train or on the plane.”
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