Studies report in-flight COVID-19 transmission. Good news?


You’ve probably seen a flurry of scary headlines about studies showing that COVID-19 transmission can happen on planes.  For example, I noticed this headline from a site called MedPageToday: “Unfriendly Skies: COVID-19 Transmission on a Plane
— High above the clouds, small study finds airborne transmission might be possible.”  That headline was obviously designed to scare you.

To me, the headlines were disturbing because 1) my understanding is that the combination good air filtration systems on planes and passengers wearing masks makes COVID-19 in-flight transmission extremely unlikely; and 2) my wife and I have resumed flying, as evidenced in the photo above.

Fortunately, when you dig deeper into these reports, you’ll find that the news isn’t so scary after all.  Mark, at Miles to Memories, points out that the reported studies are from flights that took place before airlines implemented COVID-19 safety protocols and before they required masks.  Gary, at View from the Wing, goes even further and points out that the tiny number of identified in-flight COVID-19 transmissions is evidence that it was a very rare event even before safety protocols were in place.  Gary writes:

Nonetheless documenting just a handful of cases where inflight spread may have occurred is significant as an argument for the safety of flying because there’s never been a virus studied as extensively and intensively in a short period of time as this one. There are millions of people flying throughout the world week after week during the global pandemic, yet we haven’t been able to identify more flights where the virus spread (though there are probably some). This is highly suggestive that inflight spread is very rare.

Contrast that with recent CDC findings that spread of Covid-19 is linked heavily to dining in restaurants. Indoor activities are conducive to virus spread because the virus becomes aerosolized and viral loads build up the longer an individual shedding the virus spends in the enclosed environment. Restaurants generally lack the filtration and outside air exchange of planes, which is why air travel is much safer than indoor dining.

I think that Mark and Gary made good points.  And please don’t argue the opposite.  My wife and I have another plane to catch soon…

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