Flight risk: Researchers weigh in on COVID-19 exposure while on a plane

Flight risk: Researchers weigh in on COVID-19 exposure while on a plane

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - For many, heading out for Memorial Day weekend is probably the first vacation in a while.

Health experts say driving is one the safest ways to travel if you have to.

But when you need to go a bit farther, it’s is safe yet to jump on a plane?

“I would think very carefully about the reason for your trip," said Paloma Beamer, an exposure scientist and associate professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. “I wouldn’t just pop on an airplane to go on a vacation.”

Beamer and her colleague Dr. Kacey Ernst recently wrote an article together weighing in on whether or not it is safe to fly in the time of the coronavirus.

The duo said that airplanes have a higher ventilation rate than most office buildings, but that you should still be taking precautions.

Their article states:

“When the ventilation system on planes is operating, planes have a very high ratio of outside fresh air to recirculated air – about 10 times higher than most commercial buildings. Plus, most planes’ ventilation systems have HEPA filters. These are at least 99.9% effective at removing particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter and more efficient at removing both smaller and larger particles.”

“What you want to think about primarily is who is in your 6-foot bubble,” Beamer said.

Airplanes aren’t built for social distancing, and not every flight will have a seat open between passengers. But when you go to pick, Beamer says aim far away from the aisle.

"Try to get a window seat because that already reduces your 6-foot bubble in half because you have a wall,” she said.

Beamer suggests adding a Ziploc bag to your packing list. This is for anything other people will come into contact with like your ID and boarding pass. That way you can take them out and sanitize them before you need to use them next.

"Hand sanitizer and hand wipes if possible, try to clean all the surfaces off near you before you touch them.”

So if you have to travel, being informed is best. Do the research to see what airline and route are the best fit.

“Look at the different airlines your considering and see what they’re doing now and hope they continue it by the time you take your trip,” Beamer said.

Try to minimize getting up and walking down the aisles on a flight or take two shorter flights to minimize your trips to the restroom.

And if you have the choice to drive, do that instead.

Beamer and Ernst also said if you are thinking about flying with kids, there are special considerations.

Getting a young child to adhere to wearing a mask and maintaining good hygiene behaviors at home is hard enough; it may be impossible to do so when flying. Children under 2 should not wear a mask.

Each day, we are all constantly faced with decisions about our own personal comfort with risk. Arming yourself with specific knowledge about your airport and airline, and maximizing your use of protective measures that you have control over, can reduce your risk.

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