While taking a trip by plane is much more dangerous than staying home anyways, it seems that chances of catching covid-19 – as well as almost any similar respiratory infection – onboard the aircraft are much lower than using pretty much any other means of public transportation.
We all already know how poorly ventilated indoor spaces could be dangerous when it comes to the spread of airborne infections. Moreover, the ongoing pandemic is the perfect reminder of how risky could be spending prolonged periods of time in crowded enclosed cabins. However, an airplane could be a lucky exception to this sad rule. Why? There are few factors involved – and different experts usually tend to name quite similar, yet still a little bit different sample of them.
As it was already pointed out many times, it is still quite hard to say that flying is perfectly safe, as safety is relative and subjective. However, with a relentless vicissitude of restrictions, far from always fully aligned with perfect coordinations, the only way to move forward through this – as we could name it – protracted pandemic probably no other than to start thinking in terms of risk-benefit ratios. Obviously, very little is without risk, but, as such columnist emphasize, perhaps some risks – such as flying – could be small enough to undertake.
Taking into account all the probabilities
The yet to be peer-reviewed research by Arnold Barnett, who is presently a professor of management science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled ‘Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?’ already received a great deal of media attention. Which is far from unexpected – as the already published paper deals with questions asked not only by airline staff and management, but also by both frequent flyers and those who only consider taking a trip by air – or maybe rather a risk of it.
Such risk could be evaluated by raising questions similar to these, Barned found the most relevant in the context of current pandemic. A researcher factored in a set of variables, like the probability of being seated near a person who is already contagious with novel coronavirus – as well as the probability that the protective face covering which is already required on most flights will not prove effective. He’s accounted for the way air is renewed in airplane cabins, which technically should make it extremely improbable tol contract the disease from people who aren’t in your immediate vicinity – your row, or, to a lesser extent, the person across the aisle, the people ahead or the ones behind.
What was concluded is that we have a 1/4300 chance of contracting novel coronavirus if a flight lasts two hours. Such odds may mean that on average 1 in 4300 passengers will become infected with the virus. The chances of contracting the virus are roughly half, 1/7700, if airlines leave the middle seat empty. He published his results as a preprint, which has not yet been reviewed.
So is it safe after all?
It was also found out that the chances of dying from someone who contracted the disease during the trip inside a commercial aircraft are even lower. To be exact, as low as 1 in 400,000 – to 1 in 600,000 in some cases, all that depending on the pattern risk factors such as the subject’s age or other conditions which could make an infection of novel coronavirus more likely fatal.
To put this in perspective, these odds are comparable to the average risk of death for a typical two hours on the ground. The numbers all seem low enough, although, according to the author of research mentioned above, they are still high compared to a 1 in 34 million chance of your flight ending in disaster which could prove itself as fatal.
Modeling of statistical probabilities in such a case could be more than comforting – but there are also some real-world examples which could help us better understand what we are dealing here with. In fact, as contact tracing is one of the pillars on which different countries have built their covid-battling strategy, there is already a lot of empirical data on how the transmission of novel coronavirus took place aboard an airplane. Or, how it did not happen – almost, to be exact.
Down-to-earth examples from real world
Precedents of proper documentation can be found in huge amounts of data. Australian government has been using a technique mentioned above to look for the transmission of the virus on hundreds of flights (you can actually check all the data here), and has found that while infected people did actually take a crowded (or, in some cases, not so crowded) commercial flights, nobody got infected on a plane. Worldwide, there have, lets say, isolated cases of individual transmissions which were allegedly linked to flights (but again, no solid evidence for the fact of transmission), however no superspreading-type events have been documented. At least, so far.
All odds considered, the choice of taking a trip by plane – or not – is, of course, always yours. And just to remind you – while you are reading that – just like government regulators and air carriers are doing their best to make your journey as safe as possible, we, on our part, are working hard to protect our clients from any flight disruptions that are so common in these times of uncertainty. That’s why we have expanded our portfolio, which now includes Skycop Care, a service designated to protect your flights in advance. As well as Ticket Refund – a solution offering legal assistance in any event of flight cancellation with the help of a dedicated attorney.
Already had a disrupted flight? Fill in our claim form to find out if it is eligible for compensation of up to €600. Remember that you can claim for old flights – even those which took place up to 3 years ago.