Coronavirus: Seasoned traveler says listen to the experts, avoid hot spots and keep traveling

  • Doug Picirillo of Arlington Heights travels more than 100,000 miles a year and has no intention of slowing down.

    Doug Picirillo of Arlington Heights travels more than 100,000 miles a year and has no intention of slowing down. Courtesy of Doug Picirillo

 
By Doug Picirillo
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 3/10/2020 10:15 AM
Editor's note: The Facebook page of Doug Picirillo of Arlington Heights is replete with photos of exotic places and airport check-ins. As an information technology consultant, he visits a lot of clients in person, to the tune of more than 100,000 air miles a year. So he knows a bit about air travel both before and now in the era of the coronavirus.

I'm following the news about the coronavirus because I travel a lot. I work in information technology providing management consulting and enterprise software development.

Our customers can be anywhere. I manage a software team in India.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With all our family on the coasts, seeing them involves somebody getting on a plane.

We like to explore. "Staycation" isn't a thing for us. We visited Israel in February on a study trip with our church.

The COVID-19 virus outbreak was already in the news when I left for India in January. I didn't see much change in O'Hare, London or Chennai. You always see a few people wearing masks in international airports. I saw only a few more than usual.

Pictures that make it look like everybody is wearing a mask are misleading. On a recent flight only one of about 160 passengers was wearing one. Masks are not among the CDC's top tips.

If you're like me, you can't find any hand sanitizer in the stores. I think American Airlines bought it all. Every counter has a bottle for employees and passengers.

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Use it. If you're desperate, hand sanitizer is easy to make. Search for "homemade hand sanitizer" online.

I have not encountered any extra airport screening, but I have not been to the most affected areas. A week after we returned from Israel, both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority started locking things down, banning flights from affected countries and closing a lot of tourist sites. Timing is everything.

You won't see any medical screening on U.S. domestic flights. It's both unnecessary and impractical.

I have noticed some extra care on the airplanes, though. Flight attendants are wiping down controls and work surfaces; passengers are wiping down their seats, arm rests, and tray tables. Flight attendants wear gloves during meal and beverage service.

American, Delta, and United have information on their websites about refunds and waived change fees.

They say they always clean their planes well, but they are enhancing their procedures. American says most of their planes are equipped with HEPA filters that completely change cabin air once every two to four minutes. This is similar to the hospital standard.

Planes aren't as dirty as some think. The bigger problem is the infected fellow passenger. I trust the airlines to clean their planes more than I trust other travelers to stay home if they're sick.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hotel room cleanliness varies a lot. Newer and pricier hotels are likely to be cleaner than older and cheaper ones.

I recently stayed in a "pure room" certified by a company called Pure Wellness. They work with several hotel brands to provide in-room air purifiers, hypoallergenic linens and other things. I'll stay there again even after the current crisis recedes.

It's easy and smart to carry disinfectant wipes to wipe down remote controls, doorknobs and anything else touched by every guest. Some people carry their own pillowcases. I think that's a bit much.

Most rental car companies clean their vehicles pretty well after each rental. But just like in a hotel room, it wouldn't hurt to wipe down the surfaces people touch the most.

You don't have much choice about avoiding the hot spots. All the flights are canceled. You just can't get there. If you're already there, it's possible that you can't leave for a while.

If you're like me, you're not really affected by the travel restrictions. I don't go to the big conventions. I don't do business in China or the other hot spots.

I will, however, choose domestic-only airports like John Wayne-Orange County instead of trans-Pacific gateways like Los Angeles International.

Some of those whose business travel is disrupted are really hurting. Some of my frequent flyer friends, especially the entrepreneurs, are losing money every day because they can't do their jobs.

My suggestions for everybody, whether you're a frequent flyer, an occasional flyer or getting ready for your first trip ever, is to listen to the experts. Follow the simple CDC recommendations.

Above all else, wash your hands often. Use hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Avoid touching your face. Avoid close contact with sick people.

Keep calm, take sensible precautions, and -- unless it gets a lot worse -- keep traveling.

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