Grocery shopping or eating out is more dangerous than flying by air. The risk of getting infected on board a plane is lower than grocery shopping, states a study. The study aims to show the importance of layered strategies that could mitigate the risk of infection.
While flying, if the passengers wear face mask, the aircraft's air conditioning and filtration systems are functioning well, cabin surfaces are well disinfected and appropriate ventilation is maintained from gate to gate at the airport, then it is a fairly low-risk endeavour. The study published by Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health shows the effectiveness of various non-pharmaceutical measures. The study was funded by airlines, airline manufacturers and airports but the Harvard researchers stated that it did not influence their findings.
Measures such as consistent ventilation, disinfection of surfaces, wearing of face masks, and ample social distancing while boarding and deboarding the plane can mitigate transmission risks on flights, it said. The study does not vouch for one single strategy but proposed a combination of strategies.
When the cabin conditioning system is fully operational, a passenger wearing a mask has substantially limited exposure to a masked infectious person in the nearest seat. The report stated the estimated dose inhaled by such an adjacent passenger over a few hours of exposure is likely to be less than the amount necessary to cause an infection. It said that the "downward direction" of airflow makes it harder for the infection to spread through droplets.
If anything, the report found, aircraft ventilation in fact enhances protection and dilutes and removes airborne contagions in comparison to other indoor spaces. It is also substantially better than residential situations, the study said. "This level of ventilation effectively counters the proximity travellers will be subjected to during flights. The level of ventilation provided aboard aircraft will substantially reduce the opportunity for person-to-person transmission of infectious particles, when coupled with consistent compliance with mask-wearing policies," the study stated.
It said that making it mandatory for passengers to attest to absence of COVID-19 symptoms, and ensuring that they comply with the airline's coronavirus protocols provides some degree of protection.