The holidays are right around the corner. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people are wondering one thing: Should they stay home or fly out to see family? Intensified by the fact that many people have not seen their loved ones for almost a year, this question is not an easy one to answer.
Fortunately, one part of this dilemma is straightforward. A recent Harvard study examining air traveler infection risk found that 100% use of face masks by passengers cut down COVID-19 transmission risk significantly.
Aircraft Cabins: Prime COVID-19 Transmission Environments?
All airlines require passengers to wear face masks during the current COVID-19 crisis. The only exception to this rule is children under the age of two. And if you think it isn’t being enforced, major airlines have already banned over 700 fliers for failure to comply. But are airlines being overly cautious, or are face masks really that important for protecting the public? Spoiler alert: It’s the latter.
COVID-19 is primarily spread through aerosolized respiratory particles. Since these particles can linger in the air, airplane cabins without any protection in place would normally be prime locations for transmission — under these conditions, passengers are seated within inches of each other for extended periods of time.
So, what happens when airline passengers don’t wear face masks? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the results of a study that analyzed a “super spreader” event. In this situation, a passenger on a Vietnam Airlines flight in March ended up transmitting COVID-19 to several nearby travelers and flight attendants.
Unsurprisingly, both guidelines from the CDC and a report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health support the widespread usage of face masks on flights.
All Airline Passengers Should Wear Face Masks
With funding from a variety of aviation organizations, the Harvard researchers behind the recent report found that face masks are “one of the most pragmatic and effective options” for stymying the spread of the coronavirus in an aircraft. The catch? Every single passenger should be masked up.
You may be wondering, just how important is universal usage of face masks during air travel? The report suggests that, if all airline passengers wear surgical masks, it “may reduce infection risk from respiratory particles to less than 1 percent.”
The Harvard researchers mention that, prior to the adoption of universal face mask policies, airlines carried an infection risk of 3.69%. It’s worth noting that some individuals factored into this risk score could have contracted the coronavirus before or after their flights.
With that said, the report recommended that passengers don coronavirus protection for their faces from the time when they enter the airport to the moment when they leave the destination airport. When face mask usage is implemented in tandem with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration and surface disinfection, these intervention efforts offer substantial COVID-19 protection for air travel passengers.
The report also mentioned that adequate cloth face mask protection comes down to the kind of fabric used, number of layers, and tightness of the weave. It suggested that fabrics with high thread counts are best, and the more layers, the better. The addition of a filter layer would be great as well. Lastly, make sure to pay special attention to how tightly your mask fights around your nose and mouth.
Tips to Increase Your Flight Safety During COVID-19
If you want to take the safest route this holiday season, then it’s probably best to follow the CDC’s recommendation to stay home. Of course, we do understand that many people will still be boarding flights over the next two months. If you find yourself in this category, here are some tips to make your air travel as safe as it can be:
- Book flights at unorthodox times — this means fewer people onboard, which means fewer chances of exposure to COVID-19. Plus, it’s usually cheaper!
- Whether it’s check-in, boarding, or baggage claim, follow social distancing protocols.
- Are you flying alone? Take a window seat. This location has less proximity to people moving in the aisle and fewer people surrounding you.
- Wipe your area with disinfectant before sitting down. Most airlines are already disinfecting between flights, but it never hurts to be extra cautious.
- Turn on your overhead air vent while everyone is boarding.
- Decrease any time spent without wearing a face mask. If this means limiting how much you eat and drink while in flight, so be it.
- Make sure you’re monitoring COVID-19 activity in your destination. If a major spike is occurring there, it may be best to hold off on going to that area.
We hope that this article gives you meaningful insight into your decision to fly over the holidays. No matter what you choose to do, don’t forget your face masks!
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