FLIGHTS are returning as global travel starts back up after months of lockdown. Many people worry that travelling on a plane might increase their risk of catching coronavirus – but what is the risk really?
Flights see a large number of people sitting in close proximity for hours at a time. Does this mean that travelling by plane increases your chances of catching coronavirus? An expert from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed the real risk of flying at this time.
David Nabarro, WHO special envoy for Covid-19, explained in his travel advice that aircraft travel is in fact “relatively safe”.
This is thanks to planes’ powerful ventilation systems.
“The one good thing about aeroplanes is that the ventilation system includes really powerful filters which means that in our view they are relatively safer,” he told BBC News.
Despite what many people may think, the same air is not recycled and pumped through the aircraft throughout the flight.
The modern system sees 50 percent fresh air and 50 percent filtered, recirculated air delivered to a plane cabin.
The advanced ventilation systems on planes actually make transmission through the air you breathe in unlikely.
In fact, the filters are comparable to those used to keep the air clean in hospital operating rooms and industrial clean rooms.
“Hepa (high-efficiency particulate air) filters are effective at capturing greater than 99.9 per cent of the airborne microbes in the filtered air,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) states.
“Air supply is essentially sterile and particle-free,”
However, Nabarro did say that obeying social distancing where possible is advisable.
“In general, I would like to ask everybody just to respect the physical distancing norms, but to be perhaps particularly careful in confined settings, especially when there’s singing or shouting,” he said.
In a statement issued following the WHO’s pandemic announcement, a spokesperson said that “those within the same row, and two rows in front and two rows behind” would be the most at risk of infection.
There are further steps you can take to protect yourself onboard a flight.
Kelly A. Reynolds, a professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, explained that it’s easier to protect yourself if you clean your plane seat.
“Studies have shown that disinfecting wipes and hand sanitisers can kill bacteria and viruses that are much more difficult to kill than coronavirus,” said Reynolds.
Passengers can always wipe down tray tables, armrests and areas surrounding their seats with disinfecting wipes.
Meanwhile, Vicki Stover Hertzberg, professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, shared her top tips on staying safe while flying with the New York Times
She said: “Book a window seat, try not to move during the flight, stay hydrated and keep your hands away from your face.”
However, the CDC and government health officials worldwide continue to maintain that hand washing is the ultimate way to ward off germs.