The novel coronavirus shows no signs of slowing as it continues to spread like wildfire in the United States. We are now experiencing the aftermath of all that holiday travel, which experts warned against last year. Did you know that over one million Americans boarded planes the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against holiday travel?
It’s understandable that people wanted to get away or see family for the holidays. That’s been the routine forever, but sometimes it’s necessary to adapt to the changing times. It’s hard to do this when pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on millions of people. The desire to see family and be with loved ones or visit new and exciting destinations is a risk people were willing to take. Unfortunately, this meant that people submerged their concerns about contracting COVID-19 below their desire to travel.
Now, if you decide to travel in or out of the United States, keep in mind that many states recently implemented travel restrictions. Many states have face mask mandates in public settings and some states require 10-day quarantine upon arrival. Additionally, some states require proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure. That last rule is contingent with the travel restrictions that various countries put in place. Despite these rules, the number of travelers, both domestic and international, increases with each passing week. Airlines also started to increase capacity on planes and do not always block off middle seats.
How Safe Is Air Travel?
Health experts weighed in on this topic to assess the safety for travelers. Infectious disease, aerospace, and health care experts conducted studies and concluded that exposure to COVID-19 and other aerosolized pathogens on a plane is very low. In fact, one passenger would have to sit next to an infected passenger on a plane for 54 hours to become infected through the air. This number was recently removed from the study because it was misinterpreted by people.
The good news is that airplane flights do not fall under the “super-spreader” event category. The unfortunate news is that there are many unknown factors about contracting the virus on a plane. Epidemiologists and aviation experts can only learn so much from the numbers, but the numbers don’t reveal everything. A major problem lies in people boarding planes when they are already positive. This means that they are ignoring symptoms, or they lie about testing positive in the new pre-boarding health screening questionnaire.
In order to accurately understand how rapidly COVID-19 spreads on a plane, every passenger would need to get tested immediately before and after the flight. All passengers would then need to undergo several tests over a couple weeks during quarantine to ensure they didn’t experience symptoms after landing.
All Experts Agree That Air Quality On Planes Is Well-Filtered
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, airplane manufacturers installed HEPA filters for efficient circulation on commercial aircrafts. While the HEPA filter doesn’t make the air you breathe 100% clean and virus-free, it does provide much cleaner air than restaurants, stores, bars, and your house. The HEPA filters work to filter particulate matter, trapping about 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns. Several aerospace engineers said that these new aircraft filtration systems almost mirror the filtration that happens in hospital operating rooms.
How Does Air Flow On A Plane?
Air flows from the ceiling of the aircraft’s cabin in a downward motion. The speed at which it flows is about one yard per second, and then it exits below the window seats. Statistically, most planes recycle 25 – 35% of cabin air. The recycled air travels through the HEPA filters, which trap potential virus particles. The other 70 – 75% of air leaves the cabin every couple minutes. This means that new air enters the cabin with the recycled air every two to five minutes. This all depends on the size of the plane, though.
These new filtration systems are wonderful, but distancing and masking are necessary to reduce the risk of spreading. This is true whether you are on a plane or not. Please keep this in mind if you intend to fly, and make sure that you take the necessary steps to ensure your safety when you arrive at your destination, and when you return home.