covid-airplane

Is flying safe with the coronavirus? How to reduce your risk on planes

Unfortunately taking a flight does carry risk of Covid infection, due to the close proximity you’ll spend indoors with many people. And it’s not just the flight, but also the process of getting to and from the airports.

However, as this pandemic wanes on, many people will need to fly for one reason or another.

Therefore this article will look at risks of getting Covid when flying – and steps you can take to mitigate this risk.

Unfortunately taking a flight does carry risk of Covid infection, due to the close proximity you’ll spend indoors with many people. And it’s not just the flight, but also the process of getting to and from the airports.

However, as this pandemic wanes on, many people will need to fly for one reason or another.

Therefore this article will look at risks of getting Covid when flying – and steps you can take to mitigate this risk.

Airplane Risks & Mitigation Steps

Focusing on the plane aspect first, these are the 3 potential routes of infection while flying:

Route #1 – Objects (aka “fomites”) – Droplets expelled by passengers, containing coronavirus, landing on surfaces, which you then accidentally transfer from your hands to your mouth/nose/eyes.

Route #2 – Droplets – expelled by passengers you’re in close proximity to, which go directly into your mouth/nose/eyes

Route #3 – Microdroplets/Airborne – Breathing, talking, coughs and sneezes can eject micro-droplets into the air. This risk doesn’t require the infected passenger to be seated super close to you, as airborne particles could travel around the plane. This route of transmission has been questioned in the past, so we’ll revisit some of the research on this later.

Image source: BMC Infectious Diseases paper – link

For routes (1) and (2), it’s likely “adequate” to wear a properly fitting face covering (such as fabric or surgical mask) and glasses. They will:

  • Mitigate (1) by blocking/reducing your ability to unconsciously put your finger or other objects into your mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Mitigate (2) by forming a physical barrier that the droplets will land on, and not pass through.

Route of entry (3) requires a proper respirator (rather than mask) to mitigate:

Things to look out for with your respirator choice:

  • ✅ It should be rated at N95 standard (USA) or FFP2/P2 standard (Europe), or better. Better = N99/N100 (USA) or FFP3/P3 (Europe)
  • ✅ It *must* fit your face in such a way that there aren’t gaps left anywhere. Unfortunately some respirators fit terribly, and if they leave air gaps, they’re effectively useless.
  • ✅ The straps *must* allow you to create a tight seal. Respirators that only loop around the ears are hard to tighten sufficiently.
  • ✅ Once on and tightened, test the fit by blowing out your mouth, and checking if any air leaks around the edges.
  • ✅ If you have facial hair, you *must* shave around the region at which the respirator touches your face. Otherwise your facial hair affect the quality of the seal.

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