Flights: Authority unveils how risky flying really is for coronavirus transmission

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Flights see plane passengers come into very close proximity with crowds of other travellers. Amid a global pandemic, how dangerous is it to fly? Trade association The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has unveiled a report that answers this burning question.

According to IATA, 1.2 billion passengers have travelled by plane since the beginning of the year.

However, there have only been 44 cases of coronavirus reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight.

Dr David Powell, IATA’s medical advisor, told Lonely Planet: “That’s one case for every 27 million travellers.”

“Be reassured that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on board a flight is very low,” states IATA in its online travel advice.

There are four main reasons why so few onboard transmission have taken place, explains the authority:

Seating position – For the vast majority of time spent onboard, passengers are seated facing forwards which makes a big difference in terms of the chance of breathing in someone else’s expelled breath.

Seat backs – High seatbacks on planes act as a solid barrier to COVID-19 spread.

High airflow rate – Research has shown that the airflow in an aircraft (from ceiling to floor) is less conductive to droplet spread than other similar environments or modes of transport.

Air exchange – Modern jet aircraft deliver high airflow and replacement rates, combined with hospital-grade High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that are more than 99.9 percent effective at removing viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Cabin air is exchanged every two to three minutes.

The IATA report added that wearing a face mask also adds a significant extra layer of protection – hence why it’s a common requirement on most airlines.

Travellers can also take comfort from the fact it’s unlikely an infected passenger will even get to sit next to them.

“Government health screening and departure biosafety measures minimise this,” said IATA.

Other steps during the airport and flight process that are now in place also help.

These include more contactless and self-service processes.

There is more frequent and deeper cleaning and sanitisation in airports and aircraft.

There’s also physical distancing at the airport where possible.

What’s more, most airlines have simplified cabin service in operation.

This decreases crew movement and interaction with passengers.

Travellers are also encouraged to limit their movement during the flight.

Lastly, there are contactless procedures for customs and border protection.

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