Airlines can significantly reduce the risk of coronavirus to passengers by encouraging hand washing, requiring that passengers and crew members wear masks at all times, ensuring constant ventilation and air flow during flying, and regularly cleaning and sanitizing airplanes, according to a report co-authored by several Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts.
The report about flying in a COVID-19 world was funded by the Aviation Public Health Initiative, an industry-backed group. This is the most comprehensive research to date to conclude that the layered approach U.S. airlines have taken to protect customers and employees from COVID-19 means the risk of exposure during flying and the whole air travel experience is very low.
To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed a single case of COVID-19 transmission on a U.S. airplane.
“The risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard aircraft [is] below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out,” the Harvard researchers concluded. “Implementing these layered risk mitigation strategies…requires passenger and airline compliance [but] will help to ensure that air travel is as safe or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times.”
The report concludes that the universal use of face masks, diligent cleaning protocols and advanced ventilation and filtration systems offer significant protection against COVID-19, lowering the risk of transmission on an aircraft to minimal levels.
Wearing of face masks by passengers and crew is essential
The study determined that the use of face masks was “the most essential part of a comprehensive set of measures to reduce COVID-19 during air travel.”
Ventilation systems on passenger aircraft are highly effective at refreshing, filtering air
Harvard’s research team noted the “highly effective ventilation systems” on aircraft, which mitigate disease exposure by rapid and continuous filtering and exchange of cabin air.