COVID19 and flying

Flying and COVID19.

If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to get away for the holidays this Fall. But traveling, in terms of COVID19, comes with risk. And, like anything, each one of us have to weigh the pros and cons of this risk.

Yesterday, the CDC published two case studies demonstrating COVID19 spread on airplanes. Both of the flights were in March (so “early” on the pandemic), but shows that, if we don’t do anything, attack rate of COVID19 on a plane is high. What did they find?

  • On a 10-hour flight from London to Vietnam (March 2), a symptomatic passenger (Female, 27 years old) was sitting in business class. 16 other people (out of 217 passengers and crew) were infected during the flight. The attack rate was 62% among people in business class. People sitting closer to the index case (2 meters) were more likely to get infected than sitting more than 2 meters from the index case.
  • On a 15-hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong (March 10), two index cases (from North America) infected two others on the flight (from China). This is now known because the scientists used genetics. Because this study was retrospective, they didn’t conduct testing on all passengers, so we don’t know the attack rate. But we do know it was transmitted on the plane.

It’s important to mention that a previous scientific article found no spread on a plane…

  • On a 15-hour flight from Wuhuan to Toronto (Jan 22), there was a symptomatic index case on the flight with approximately 350 passengers on board. This index case also happens to be the first case in Canada. After the flight, close contacts (within 2 meters of passenger) were instructed to monitor symptoms daily and contact public health officials for 14 days. 6 passengers were symptomatic, but all tested negative for COVID19. This study put considerable faith on the limited testing (compared to the first CDC article), and we don’t know the true attack rate. But if there was spread, it likely caused asymptomatic or mild infections.

Air travel requires not just traveling in a plane, but also spending time in security lines and terminals and getting to and from the airport. The CDC states that “once on the plane, most viruses and germs do not spread easily because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowd flights, sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID19”.

If you choose to air travel, check out the company website first. Company compliance and adherence to public health recommendations lay on a spectrum. Before you buy tickets, make sure they are:

  • -Requiring people to wear a mask
  • -Promoting social distancing
  • -Using online or contactless reservations and check-in
  • -Enhanced cleaning procedures

Wearing a mask on a flight is a pain. But it it’s just that…a pain. It can significantly reduce your risk and the risk of everyone else on flight so we can all enjoy the holidays.

Love, YLE

Data sources:

Vietnam flight:

Hong Kong flight:

Canada flight:

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