The World Nomads Podcast: Flying – Fact vs Fiction

In this episode, flying during COVID-19, how to get the cheapest seats to the best destinations and what your airport experience looks like in 2020.


empty airport Photo © Supplied: Your airport experience in 2020 is hardly buzzing.

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The World Nomads Podcast: Traveling during COVID-19

The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes, and in their place, sharing the thoughts of travelers who are shaping the future of the industry post COVID 19. We tap into their vast bank of knowledge to discover what can be learned from the past as we plan a new way of traveling moving forward.

What’s in the episode

00:34 Are Europeans back to a normal travel life?

01:51 Don’t be complacent

05:33 How to get a cheap flight

08:56 Flying stats for the US

11:00 Staying safe from COVID-19 on a plane

14:28 Travel should be fun

15:56 What your current airport experience looks like

17:29 No time zones in airports

18:30 Get in touch if you have flown during the pandemic

Quotes from the episode

“A lot of the ways that people would spend killing time before a flight is either closed up or aren't available. Many of the restaurants just do take away for people to be able to spread out, or the tables are much more separated. Everything is much more contact-less. Some of the restaurants will let you order on your phone, the security, and the check-in agents, often at times won't even take your items, you hold it up to them for them to read.”– Scott Keyes

Who is in the episode

Scott Keyes is the Founder & Chief Flight Expert of Scott’s Cheap Flights.  Leave the deal hunting to Scott and his team of experts. Only the best deals make it to your inbox. Check out the membership sign up link below.

Resources & links

Sign up to Scott’s Cheap Flights.

How to Cancel a Flight—and Not Lose the Value of the Ticket.

The odds of catching Covid-19 on an airplane are slimmer than you think, scientists say.

According to Nat Geo, the chances of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 3000, research suggests you have a 1 in 4300 chance of catching COVID on a full 2-hour flight.

Bookmark World Nomads travel safety alerts.

You can get in touch with us by emailing

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If you liked this episode please head to Apple Podcasts and kindly leave us a rating, review, and of course, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Kim: Hi it’s Kim and Phil with you and our chat with Scott Keyes from Scott’s Cheap Flights shortly who will unpack all of that, but Phil if you take a look at Instagram it would appear the whole of Europe is almost back to a relative normal travel life, with shots of people in Italy and Greece on vacation, not to mention domestic travel in the UK and America…is that the case?

Phil: It may appear that way, but borders are still shut, restrictions are still in place, and as we know things can change in a flash. You can bookmark our travel safety alerts page which will be under resources in show notes and that’s updated regularly.

But in short, do your research before you book a destination and re-educate yourself on how to stay safe – don’t be complacent. Avoid standing in long queues, wear a face mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and double-check, that is make sure you have the most up-to-date information on your flight and the country it's landing in.

Kim: Not being complacent is a great piece of wisdom. Scott Keyes is the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, and basically, they source amazing deals to the best destinations, in fact, you can save up to 90%. But first, it’s always fun to find out how these companies take flight (pardon the pun)

Scott: Scott's Cheap Flights started very serendipitously. Most people who found a startup these days, they did so because they had really wanted to be an entrepreneur. They had spent years thinking about different ideas and trying to come up with all that was going to be their million-dollar plan for a company and how were they going to do it? And I did none of those things, not out of hubris, not because I thought I was better, because I'd never considered starting a company, or I never considered really even getting into the travel world.

I was a journalist by trade and worked for years in political journalism out of college. And if you know one thing about journalists, especially in the U.S., it's not a very financially lucrative industry and so I was out of college, very poor, trying to make ends meet, but also I was young. I still really wanted to travel. And so trying to figure out, "Okay, I've got a very meager bank account and I've got all these places I want to see, how do I do this?"

I'd watched airfares and saw them bop around. One day they were really high, one day they were low. I was like, "How does this work? What's going on here?" And then kind of undertook it as a hobby, a challenge, where I started to really study airfare, watch the way it behaved, get a sense of how to predict what was going to happen to it, and spent years doing that. And it all then culminated, this was back in December, I think, of 2013, when I got the best deal that I've ever gotten in my life and that's still true to this day. It was a New York City to Milan for 130 bucks round trip. That's probably what, like $175 or $200, Australian dollars.

Kim: Yeah, it's cheap, it's cheap.

Scott: That's a flight that normally costs $800, $900, and I couldn't believe it. I had no plans to go to Milan that morning when I woke up but when you find a price like that, when you find a flight like that, all of a sudden you're like, "Yeah, absolutely. I'd be willing to go to Italy for 130 bucks." So bought the ticket, had an amazing trip. It was really, really wonderful. When I got back, all my friends and coworkers kept coming up to me, I guess word had spread, and they kept coming up to me, "Hey, Scott, I heard about that great deal you got. Next time you find a deal like that, do you mind letting me know too?"

And so, by the time I had heard this from the seventh or eighth person, I realized, "Gosh, why don't I just start a simple little email list, and that way I can let everybody know at the same time."

Kim: Well, we'll put membership, sign up details in show notes but one thing I'm sensing is that you need to have a sense of flexibility. You have to get out of the mindset that we leave on Saturday morning and come back the following Sunday.

Scott: You know, I think that's both true and not true. The way that it's true is it's absolutely the case that the more flexible you are, the better your likelihood of getting a cheap flight, but the way it's not true is we think of that oftentimes as you have to compromise on the things that you really want. You have to really, you can get a cheap flight, but it's going to take... it's going to have five stops or it's going to be on some terrible airline that you've never heard of or stuff like that.

In reality, oftentimes the best flights can be, the cheapest flights can be the best flights. That deal that I got from New York City to Milan for 130 bucks, it was nonstop on United included checked baggage. It was an amazing deal. We sent one not too long ago, business class from the U.S. to all over Southeast Asia, Bali, Bangkok, Vietnam elsewhere for about 600 bucks round trip. That's a flight that normally goes for $5,000.

So while it's true that the more flexibility you have, the better your likelihood of getting a deal, I wouldn't confuse that with it being, you're going to have to take some terrible flights in order to get that. One of our principals at Scott's Cheap Flights is all the deals we send have to pass what's called "The Bestie Test." Is this a flight that you would want to buy for your best friend? And so, not only does it have to be cheap, but it also has to be a good flight. It has to have good routing, be on a decent airline, not have a ton of fees, all that type of stuff.

But the last point that I'll make here is that traditionally, the way that people plan a vacation is what I call the "Destination First Method." It's a three-step process. Step one, you decide where you want to go. Step two, you decide when you want to go there, and only on step three, do you think about, "Well, what does the flight cost? How do I get there?"

And by setting flights and setting the price as the third-order priority, it's not terribly surprising that people end up with some pretty expensive flights and so what I recommend is that if you want to make... if cheap flights are a priority if that's important to you to get cheap flights, make it a priority. Take that three-step process and flip it on its head. What I call the "Flight First Method." Step one, where are there cheap flights out of your home airport? Step two, of all the places where there are cheap flights, which one's of interest to you, and then step three of where there are cheap flights and interest to you, are there dates where those cheap flights are available that work for your schedule?

And so by setting the price as the number one priority, rather than the destination, you can still go to tons of places on your bucket list, but be able to do so in a way that you're saving a lot of money in the process, rather than paying a thousand dollars to go to Milan, even though there were some $300 flights to Japan available that you just missed, because you didn't happen to be searching them, or because you didn't get an alert about them.

Kim: Let's address the elephant in the room. This conversation that you and I are having sounds pre-pandemic. Are people still flying?

Scott: Yes and no. At least in the U.S., a little over 800,000 people got on a plane today, which is a lot, but it's also about 65%, 70% lower than it was this day, one year ago. So it's definitely significantly diminished from where it was, but it's not as though nobody is flying or getting on airplanes, it's still a somewhat common activity.

Kim: I know you don't have a crystal ball. We talk about travel post-COVID, but we're kind of shifting, at World Nomads, the conversation also towards learning to travel through COVID-19. Do you agree that there will be such a thing, that we just need to learn to live with it?

Scott: I have a couple of thoughts on this. One is, there are a lot of people who predict, "Oh, this will be the death of travel. Nobody's going to get on airplanes anymore." I'm reminded of that saying, that nothing is as important as it feels like in the moment, and what reminded me of that today was seeing a short clip on Twitter of a packed, crowded rock concert in Wuhan, where there were thousands and thousands of people all getting together, partying together. Obviously this was the epicenter of the virus, but because it's been mostly gotten under control, their life has started to return back to normal, and what happens when life is able to return back to normal? We want to do all the things that we love to do. We want to make up for the lost time.

And so I think once people feel safe and comfortable traveling again, absolutely they're going to be getting back on planes. It won't happen overnight. It'll be a gradual climb, less a V- shape recovery, and more of a Nike swoosh. But I'm very bullish on the future of travel and the future of flying. The question though of flying during the pandemic is a really interesting one because one of the things that we hear so often is A, you shouldn't be indoors. It's an airborne virus that especially spreads indoors, but also it especially spreads in close quarters, so you want to have social distancing. You want to keep six feet. What is it, two meters, one meter? I'm so bad at the metric system, I apologize.

Kim: No, 1.5 meters in the metric system.

Scott: 1.5 systems. Thank you. So, you want to keep that distance, which is a really difficult thing to do on an airplane. Even in the best of circumstances, there are some airlines in the U.S. that are blocking out middle seats. Even then, you're talking about an extra 18 inches, a foot and a half, it's virtually nothing. So people understandably have the assumption that airplanes must be a terrible place to be during a pandemic, must be a real vector of transmission, and scientists have actually studied this.

They've looked at it, done a lot of different angles and studies on it, and what they've found is that it is way safer to be on an airplane than most people expect. And again, it was shocking even to me when I read this, to realize like, why? People are in close quarters for hours at a time, indoors, but the reason why it turns out flying is much safer than most people expect is A, rather than there not being any fresh air on board, we think of airplanes as a hermetically sealed environment, where there's no fresh air from the moment you take off to the moment you touch touchdown.

Rather than that being the case, in fact, oxygen is constantly being sucked into the plane during the flight. There are these really kind of fancy vents through the engine that bring in fresh oxygen continuously throughout the flight. But what's even more important is they have what is called HEPA filters. So these are hospital-grade air filters that are constantly, essentially purifying the air. Every couple of minutes the entire air cabin has flowed through these air filters and that is killing 99.97% of particles.

Layer on top of that the fact that masks are now required for all flights in the U.S., They've gotten rid of basically all exceptions and the fact that everybody's facing the same direction, not usually talking very much. It's not like a choir practice where we're singing at one another and really belting out air particles.

All these factors tend to combine in making air travel much safer than people might expect and that's the reason why they've gone back and looked at what are called "Super Spreading Events" where multiple people get sick. And it turns out there's only been one confirmed case of a flight since the pandemic where multiple people on board got sick, and you have to remember that there have been tens of millions of people who have flown even just in the U.S. since the pandemic began. The fact that there's only one instance of a super spreading event, I think really underscores that it's a much safer thing than most people expect.

All that said, and to wrap up here, is that vacations should be fun. Travel should be fun, and for me, I take a lot of comfort in hearing that. It would feel very safe and comfortable for me to be on an airplane. For a lot of people, they'd still be very, very worried, very tense, very uncomfortable, and I don't think anybody should feel pressured to get on a plane or to take a vacation before they're ready and before they feel comfortable, because vacations should be fun. It should be something that you're doing to take the stress away, not to add stress.

And so even being able to separate fact from fiction about air quality on a plane, if you're still like, "I just don't know. It doesn't feel like... it still feels risky to me. It's still not worth it." You 100% have my blessing to kick up your heels, wait a while longer, Paris is still going to be there next year. Tokyo's still going to be there. Sydney's still going to be there for us Americans to be able to hopefully, fingers crossed, come visit again.

Kim: Well, yeah, fingers crossed when that will happen, but you've touched on the precautions that the airlines have put in place like not booking out that middle seat. Can you speak to what happens from check-in to security? Do you know what's happening there? And even airport restaurants, where you sit down and have a bite or even a beer before you jump onto a plane, do you know how that's changed?

Scott: It's much less common. A lot of the ways that people would spend killing time before a flight is either closed up, shuttered. Many of them aren't available, many of the restaurants just do take away for people to be able to spread out, or the tables are much more separated. Everything is much more contact-less. Some of the restaurants will let you order on your phone, the security, and the check-in agents, oftentimes they won't even take your items, you hold it up to them for them to read.

And so there's a real emphasis on everything being as contact-less as possible. One of the interesting changes that happened here is some of the in-airport kiosks have actually converted to becoming COVID testing sites. But in general, I think people are trying to spend much less time at the airport before trying to get there. Just spend your time in the airport as distant from other people as possible and then get on your flight and be on your way. It's more of a sort of... Less of a relaxing, just like, go hang out, kick up your heels, have a beer, and more just like, let's just grit our teeth, get through this and get to where we're going.

Kim: Thanks Scott, a beer at the airport has always been part of the traveling experience for me! We will share an article in show notes in which scientists, as Scott touched on, say catching COVID on a plane IS slimmer than you think, in fact, to quote “ … based on short-haul flights in the US planes configured with three seats on either side of the aisle, such as the Airbus 320 and the Boeing 737 -- and assuming everyone is wearing a mask -- the risk of catching the virus on a full flight is just 1 in 4,300. Those odds fall to 1 in 7,700 if the middle seat is vacant”.

Phil: If you have flown during the pandemic and would like to share your experience email In the meantime, don’t forget to rate, share, and subscribe to the World Nomads Travel podcasts from wherever you get your favorite pods.



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1 Comment

  • James Stewart said

    It would be good to get some perspective on the airline or destination country's demands for currrent Covid tests (ie - 96 hours before arrival in one case). At best you can pay a fortune to get a 24 hour result, then if you have an extended layover at airline hub, arrive a destination longer than 96 hours after test. Plus, it precludes traveling until at least Wed of the week since almost impossible to get tests or results on a weekend unless done privately for upwards of $400.

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