Flying During the Pandemic

December 1, 2020

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Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

How Safe is it?  

As the major holiday seasons are among us and COVID-19 outbreaks run rampant through communities across the country; many people find themselves rethinking their travel plans for the upcoming holidays. Rightfully so, I mean, we are hearing from the health experts that we shouldn’t be traveling, yet the major airlines are touting their hospital-grade air filtration systems and robust cleaning policies. So who should we listen to? And how safe is it to travel on airplanes?  

To get the first question out of the way, it should be made clear that the only COVID-related advice we should listen to, is that which is coming from the professionals. The people who have dedicated their lives to the fields of infectious disease and public health. Although it may be tempting to listen to what you see on social media, oftentimes, these “facts” and claims are debunked and are only spread to drive further division in the country. Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, has strongly encouraged that people stay in for the holidays, avoid large crowds, and to especially avoid traveling on airplanes, trains, buses, or anything in between. This is to minimize both risk of exposure and risk of spreading COVID-19 any further than it already has.  

But ivy league schools like Harvard University have teamed up with the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct studies that simulate airplane environments with high-tech filtration systems to see how likely people actually are to contract COVID-19. As results of these studies have been released to the public, it appears that there is a minimal risk of contracting COVID-19 when all safety protocols are respected and filtration systems are working as they should. In fact, the DOD says that you would have to sit in your seat for up to 54 hours with your mask on and the filters running before you are at risk of contracting COVID-19!  

Don’t get too excited though.  

All of these results are completely valid, but we need to consider that these results were yielded under perfect travel conditions within the airplane. Only certain seats were open, flights were relatively short (less than 12 hours), all people wore masks appropriately at all times, there was minimal movement throughout the cabin, and all filtration systems were newly installed and running in tip-top shape. Even as airlines have begun to run their usual flights, there have been horror stories from flight attendants getting involved in (sometimes nasty) verbal altercations with passengers who refuse to wear a mask. Passengers have been put onto no-flight lists as they refuse to follow safety rules, and think of how tempting it is to keep off your mask for an extra 20 minutes while you eat your snacks. Unfortunately, given all of the factors and varying circumstances, the conditions of the airplanes in the studies are extremely difficult to reach.  

This is in no way telling you what you should or should not do for travel plans this holiday season. Like all blogs I write, the purpose of this blog is to simply breakdown results from research or higher-level information, into something that is more reader-friendly to the general public. If you were planning on traveling this holiday season, I sincerely hope that you read this blog and are still able to make the most informed decision that will be the best for not only yourself, but all of those who are around you as well.  

This holiday season is going to be one that is extremely difficult for a lot of people; but the things we do to stay safe now, ensure that there won’t be an empty seat at the celebrations next year and in the years to come. As always, stay safe and be well.  

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