Experts Share Their Thoughts On Flying Amid Coronavirus

It seems as if airflow in a confined space would be risky, but is that the case?

There are some things that we know about the coronavirus and some things that we are still learning. One of the factors that we do understand is the fact that it is safer to take part in outdoor activities than indoor activities. Of course, we need to follow the proper precautions and if there are only a few people involved, it is much safer than having a large group. Social distancing becomes more difficult as additional people are added.

Many people had summer travel plans when the coronavirus pandemic became a serious problem. If you happen to fall into that category, you may wonder if it is safe to fly on an airplane. You might also wonder if it is safer to be outside on a restaurant’s patio than indoors when you dine out. It seems as if airflow in a confined space would be risky, but is that the case?

One important thing to consider is the way air circulates in an airplane cabin. The air inside the cabin first comes from the outside and it goes through HEPA filters, so the majority of germs are removed. The air is then pushed through air ducts in the cabin pointed down from the top of the plane and there are vents on the floor. Once the air circulates from the top to the bottom, it is moved out of the cabin.

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Something else to consider about airplanes is the height of the seat. Since they are so tall, they form a type of barrier between passengers. It is unlikely that you would get sick from another passenger on the plane unless they are in the same row as you.

Robert W Mann is an aviation expert who weighs in on the subject, saying, “I would be less concerned about cabin air than the hygieneity of cabin surfaces, armrests and tray tables, and anything in the lavs, particularly.”

Those high touch surfaces are not as big of a problem is you would think because the airlines are now increasing their sanitation efforts. Passengers are also advised that they can wipe down the areas around their seats if they desire.

So far, we have discussed that the air is relatively safe, the tall seats provide social distancing and you can wipe down the area around you on top of the airline’s effort to sanitize. Are we saying that traveling on an airplane is a low-risk activity?

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. After all, you have to go through the airport in order to get to the airplane and they might not be as fastidious about cleanliness. An associate professor and chair of the Aviation Maintenance Sciences Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, R. Eric Jones, has something to say. He isn’t overly worried about the air in the airplane cabin, but he does have some concerns about airports. “For me, the cabin air, I’m much more comfortable with than I would be going through a TSA line. I would probably be more worried about eating at an airport restaurant.”

The bottom line is, you should be cautious but you don’t necessarily have to cancel your plans to travel. More than likely, you would be safe, especially when you are inside the airplane. While you are in the airport, you would need to pay close attention to potentially contaminated surfaces and social distancing.