The United States Department of Defense (DoD) recently concluded a study aimed at finding how risky it was to fly on commercial airliners in the age of COVID-19. The results were striking. The study found that there was a very low risk of contacting the coronavirus on an airliner, even when it’s full, calling the cabin of a commercial airliner the safest indoor space.
In order to determine the spread of the virus, which can be transmitted via contaminated surfaces (fomate transmission) or through the air, researchers used airliners, their use donated by UAL, and tracked the spread of a faux virus throughout the cockpit. They found that with the use of HEPA filters, 99.9 percent of particles exited the cabin within six minutes. To measure the spread researchers installed a mannequin in a passenger seat. The dummy passenger repeatedly generated an aerosol of particles simulating a cough. To see how far those particles traveled, technicians placed sensors throughout the aircraft cabin. As we noted, the spread was negligible, researchers positing that passengers in real live aircraft cabins face a .0003 percent risk of contracting the virus.
The study was extensive, with more than 300 tests over six months.
The results led the International Air Transport Association (a travel industry lobbying group) to claim that your chances of getting COVID-19 on a flight were lower than getting struck by lightning, siting the figure that there have been just 44 known cases of people contracting COVID-19 from exposure during a flight.
Critics of the study point to the shortcomings of the design of the experiments, noting that the mannequin didn’t move around the cabin, use the restroom, talk with fellow passengers or mingle with others at the gate.
Passenger travel rates are reported to be down by 70 percent since the pandemic began earlier this year, and most airline leaders admit that travel will probably not recover until after a vaccine has been developed and widely distributed.
The results are in: Your risk of exposure to COVID-19 is almost non-existent on our flights (yes, even on a full flight).
— United Airlines (@united) October 15, 2020