Tips for Flying with Babies & Young Children During the H1N1 Pandemic

Travel Advice for Flying During Coronavirus/COVID-19 We Learned Flying During H1N1

*Updated May 7, 2020*
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I’m not normally a clean freak but, after I had my daughter, I was definitely more cautious about keeping surfaces clean. I became much more vigilant about hand washing. Plain ol’ soap and water is our usual weapon of choice. But, when we’re out and about, alcohol-based hand sanitizer does the trick. And, of course, wipes. 

When babies are tiny, you can pretty much control what they touch. However, keep an eye out for well-meaning people who fuss and coo AND touch baby’s hands. Why oh why do they do that?! Those hands go straight to the mouth, so do your best to keep them as clean as you can.

But, I digress.

This is about how we survived flying during H1N1. We did and lived to tell the tale.

flying during h1n1, southwest with baby, flying southwest, southwest with toddler, southwest family travel

Sleeping on Southwest while flying during H1N1…

Flying During H1N1… Not Necessarily Negligent Parents

Originally discovered in April 2009, the H1N1 virus was originally not perceived as a threat to humans. It was called swine flu because it originated in pigs from a very small region in central Mexico. H1N1 was the first pandemic in 40 years and killed close to 18,000 people globally. In spite of this, it never once occurred to me to cancel our planned trip to Florida.

SARS Survivors

I really didn’t panic about H1N1 because, just six years prior, Toronto was on lockdown due to SARS.

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and, in 2003, the virus responsible for this syndrome was discovered in an animal reservoir near Guangdong, China. Sound familiar?

The SARS epidemic affected 26 countries and resulted in 8000 deaths globally, 44 of those in Canada. Toronto’s hospitals were in lockdown. My nephew was born in 2003 and no one except for his dad was allowed to visit the hospital. 

But if you were not old or not a newborn or just in generally good health, the message was to not panic. Wash your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t bite your nails, and all should be well.


Preparing for Flying During H1N1

An airplane truly is just a flying tube of shared surfaces and recycled air. They have always been ideal places to pick up a cold or flu virus. It takes just one person to cough into their hand and then take the tray table down for the next passenger in that seat to catch a cold. As gross as it may be to think about, it takes just one person to not wash their hands properly (or at all – GROSS) after using the washroom to open the latch on the overhead bin for the next passenger to get the Norwalk virus.

For all of our previous flights, I maintained our usual regimen of hand washing and sanitizer use. Plus, constantly nagging my daughter to keep her hands out of her mouth. This time around, even though I KNEW that catching H1N1 was as likely as any other thing we’d normally come into contact with on a flight, I was a little freaked out.


Say Yes to Disinfectant Wipes

Usually I stick to regular soap and water or wipes. On this occasion, I specifically went out and purchased disinfectant wipes. (For ones that actually kill viruses, I looked for ones mentioned by the EPA.) Once we were settled into our seats (no small feat considering Southwest‘s crazy boarding procedure), I took out the wipes and gave everything a thorough wipe down. I wiped the armrests, the tray tables, the window shade, everything we’d be likely to touch. Then, I gave all of our hands a once over. (Then, because I was worried about the chemicals in the anti-bacterial wipes, I used the baby’s sensitive diaper wipes to go over our hands again).

My husband joked that I was kinda giving off a freaky Howard Hughes vibe, but he went along with my anti-bacterial mission.

Did we get H1N1? No. Did we all have colds? Yes, in varying degrees but we could have picked those up anywhere. H1N1 was a global issue at this point so there was no need to stay home out of fear.


Should We Cancel Our Trip? A Word on Coronavirus/COVID-19

The WHO declared the Coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. As of May 7 there are almost 4,000,000 Coronavirus cases globally and almost 300,000 deaths. Coronavirus/COVID-19 infections have been reported on every continent except Antarctica. This is scary stuff, WAY worse than the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and could possibly rival the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 (which was also H1N1, btw).

When coronavirus was first declared a pandemic, the Canadian government posted active travel health notices for China, France, Germany,Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Spain and suggested avoiding cruise travel. I am not a doctor or a medical professional, but I would not have cancelled a trip (unless it was a cruise or to one of these destinations) right away. I believe health and safety precautions were necessary essential but I wouldn’t have outright canceled.

Back then, the real fear would be getting put in quarantine before your return home, and how that might disrupt your life significantly.

Of course, now all travel is cancelled for the forseeable future. Once restrictions are opened up we definitely will travel again. However, with a baby or toddler, or if anyone in your family are immunocompromised, less adventurous and more local, socially distant getaways like camping (ugh) would probably be best bets.

If you have any concerns or questions, please consult with your family doctor or a travel clinic near you.

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6 Responses to Tips for Flying with Babies & Young Children During the H1N1 Pandemic

  1. kgirl at #

    I’m sure I’d be more vigilant in a plane too, but yesterday, I didn’t even stop the kids from licking the shopping cart. I know, I know. But I’m figuring that the hand sanitizer has so completely wiped out all the ‘good’ germs that we need to balance things out again. I’m suffering from germ fatigue, I guess. But how was your trip?!

  2. Corinne at #

    Because once they’ve licked it once? Haha!

    Trip was fab and I agree about the ‘good germs’. I do try to stay away from most things “anti-bacterial”, but the hysteria surrounding H1N1 before we left was so nuts that I was second-guessing our decision to go.

    Not sure if the hype is less in Florida or we just weren’t as tuned into the media while we were away (prob. a little of both), but it felt good to get away from our day-to-day life AND the nutso H1N1 reports!

    Glad to report my momentary wave of Howard Hughes-ishness is retreating.

  3. These are great tips. I also use an essential oil salve to swab my kids’ noses and help keep germs from getting in! I wish we didn’t have to worry about this so much!

    • Corinne at #

      This is a great tip. I hope the oil smells nice!

  4. I remember SARS well (my younger daughter was born July 2003) but never felt like we were at risk and I was cautious with H1N1 but didn’t consider not travelling. This feels so much worse! We were supposed to fly to Florida on March 7th and leave on a cruise March 8th but decided to cancel on March 6th. As you said, at the time we weren’t worried about catching Covid-19 – we were worried about the ship being quarantined and not getting home. These are great sanitation tips – I think we’ll all be disinfecting like mad when we’re able to travel again!

    • Corinne at #

      We’re definitely in uncharted waters with Covid-19. Travel is changed forever, I think.

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