How Safe Is Air Travel During The Pandemic? Here’s What Experts Say

How Safe Is Air Travel During The Pandemic? Here’s What Experts Say

Some people are anxious to visit out-of-state family members, but the question on their minds is, “Can I fly safely right now?” This is a valid question, given the fact that COVID-19 is an airborne virus and the air in aircraft cabins is shared. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states to maintain social distancing, which is near impossible in an airplane. According to health experts, though, you may not have to worry about flying if you and the airlines take the right precautionary measures.  

What Are Airlines Doing To Keep Passengers Safe?

Airlines require all passengers to wear masks throughout the flight, except for the moments when they eat or drink something. Additionally, most airlines block off middle seats to create some facsimile of social distancing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines have enhanced sanitation practices, taking a more thorough approach to cleaning the planes between flights. Lastly, and most importantly, the ventilation in an airplane makes it very difficult for viruses to spread, according to the CDC.


We understand that getting in a giant tube filled with strangers sounds scary at the moment, but the air inside a plane is not simply recycled. Contrary to what you may have heard, the air inside a plane is filtered throughout the flight. MIT Medical claimed that the air quality on a commercial airliner is very high. The air volume in the cabin refreshes every two to four minutes. Air flows into the cabin from the overhead vents and travels down in a circular motion, exiting at floor level. When air leaves the cabin, half of it is dumped and the other half goes through HEPA filters, which are used in hospitals. The filtered air is then mixed with fresh air from outside the aircraft before entering the cabin again. 

According to several studies, HEPA filters on commercial airliners filter 99.97% of virus-sized particles. They can’t capture every respiratory droplet before someone inhales it. This is partly attributed to the fact that passengers and crew members move up and down the aisles, disrupting the airflow. This is why airlines require passengers to wear facial coverings on board. In the early stages of the pandemic, a man with a dry cough flew from Wuhan to Toronto. Everyone on the flight wore a mask. The man tested positive for COVID-19, but none of the other passengers tested positive. 

Masks And Social Distancing

It’s near impossible to social distance on a plane, but most airlines currently block middle seats to create space between passengers. Because of the inability to properly socially distance, airlines require passengers to wear masks for their own safety. Some airlines go so far as to only allow certain facial coverings on board. You have to check with the airline you fly on for specific details on this matter. Finally, wearing a mask helps to keep you safe, but the intention of masks is to keep others safe. 

At this time, close to one million passengers pass through security checkpoints on a daily basis. The daily numbers range from about 667,000 to 984,000, which is about half as many daily travelers as there were last last year. While it’s not 100% safe to travel by plane, the airlines are trying to make flights as safe as possible. A short domestic flight carries some moderate risks that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Wear your mask, wash your hands regularly, and do not travel if you feel sick or are fall into a high risk category for contracting the virus. Travel safely to keep yourself and other people safe.