Young man holding an smartphone and wearing a protective mask enjoying his trip back home after coronavirus pandemic


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Does the coronavirus make you afraid to fly — especially around the holidays, when airports and airlines are especially busy, and especially if this is your first travel since the coronavirus pandemic arrived? Be afraid.

I was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early August on a vacation with family that turned into a few days of fun interrupted by two weeks of tedious isolation — nearly all of it spent not recovering but instead just waiting to be safe around my mom and other people; because I was vaccinated, COVID just felt like a cold for a couple of days, with a painful swollen throat and a mild fever.

Related: What Flight Attendants Want You To Know About Flying Now

As far as the family could figure out, I caught the coronavirus in an airport or on the airplane. But this isn’t exactly why you should be afraid to fly.

Coronavirus test concept - vial sample tube with cotton swab, red checkmark next to word positive, blurred vials and blue nitrile gloves background. (Sticker is own design with dummy data)Photo credit: Lubo Ivanko/istockphoto

Obviously, I had to cancel my originally scheduled flight back from vacation. I dreaded this, but once I made it to a human customer service rep at JetBlue to explain that I’d caught COVID, the process was simple and my flight was postponed.

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If you’re in this situation, don’t bother getting retested: Even if your symptoms are gone after three days as mine were, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that you’re likely to go on testing positive for the next three months. But a negative test isn’t necessary to fly; JetBlue and other airlines defer to states and the CDC to set travel restrictions, and my state (Massachusetts) also defers to the CDC.

Tourists in masks walking in the airport terminalPhoto credit: Oleg Elkov/istockphoto

To travel after a COVID diagnosis, then, you can do it with “documentation of recovery” — a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that says you are safe to travel (or to return to work or school) “even if travel isn’t specifically mentioned in the letter.” To be safe, I not only got a letter clearing me from the clinic where I was diagnosed on vacation, but also from my doctor back home after an online consultation in which I uploaded local health documents. The final step was a “passenger disclose and attestation” form that you have to print out and sign, swearing that those healthcare clearances are true and that you are safe to fly.

Related: Carry-On Essentials to Pack for Your Next Flight

I approached my rebooked flight home with all three of these documents clutched tightly, fearing that at any point I would be challenged and sent away — or taken aside and, I don’t know, beaten and jailed under accusation of risking the health of fellow passengers. That’s also not why you should be afraid to fly, though.

I'll write out a prescription for the patientPhoto credit: LumiNola/istockphoto

The reason you should be afraid is that I was never asked for those papers!

Not only was I not on a general no-fly list for being diagnosed with COVID around two weeks earlier, but I didn’t even seem to be on a list for JetBlue, even though it knew I’d canceled my previous flight with a coronavirus diagnosis. It was an eerie feeling to board the plane, sit in my assigned seat, snap my seat belt together and look around at the scene of the crime — the place where I’d most likely been infected 21 days earlier. I can’t imagine how the flight attendants felt about this.

How many other people here had been diagnosed? How many others had documents from a doctor clearing them to fly, without being asked to show them? How many didn’t have those documents? In a world with so many people resisting the same vaccines that kept me merely bored during my weeks of COVID isolation, how many fellow passengers weren’t safe to fly?

Passengers with masks inside an airplanePhoto credit: benedek/istockphoto

JetBlue was contacted for comment in September but didn’t reply.

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