The risk of contracting COVID-19 (coronavirus) aboard an airplane is low, according to an updated tally of published cases and compiled by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Since the start of 2020, there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey (inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases), IATA reports. Over the same period, some 1.2 billion passengers have traveled (that’s one case for every 27 million travelers).
New insight into why the numbers are so low has come from the joint publication by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer of separate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research conducted by each manufacturer in their aircraft. While methodologies differed slightly, according to IATA, each simulation confirmed that aircraft airflow systems do control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of viruses.
Data from the simulations found similar results, including: Aircraft airflow systems, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, the natural barrier of the seatback, the downward flow of air, and high rates of air exchange efficiently reduce the risk of disease transmission on board in normal times. In addition, mask-wearing adds a further and significant extra layer of protection, which makes being seated in close proximity in an aircraft cabin safer than most other indoor environments.
Beyond the research conducted by the three manufacturers, a recent IATA study found that 86 percent of recent travelers felt that the industry’s COVID-19 measures were keeping them safe and were well-implemented.