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Is Air Travel as Risky as You Think?
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Is It Safe to Fly During the Pandemic? Air Travel May Be Less Risky Than You Think
Back in March, when the pandemic first started to affect our daily lives, the number of U.S. airlines’ international passengers fell by 53% from the previous year. In April, the difference was even more stark — a drop of around 96%. People didn’t trust that they would be safe from COVID-19 on airplanes, and why would they? Whether earned or not, airplanes have a reputation for being flying petri dishes. That said, flying may be safer than you think, even if there are still some risks. Here are some of the ways airlines are taking precautions to minimize those risks. Using High-Quality Air Filtration The air filtration systems on airplanes are built to stop respiratory viruses from spreading. Air quality experts recommend that air in confined spaces be replaced six times per hour. Filtration
systems on planes replace the air around 20–30 times an hour. In practice, that means you risk catching COVID-19 only if someone who’s infected is sitting directly next to, in front of, or behind you. However, that doesn’t account for people moving about the cabin on flights, so take that into consideration. Blocking the Middle Seat Some airlines have tried to create social distancing between passengers by leaving the middle seat open on flights. According to research from Arnold Barnett, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this does seem to reduce the number of passengers contracting COVID-19. Additionally, Barnett recommends that passengers try to get the window seat, since that’s where you’ll have the fewest points of contact with other passengers. It’s not quite 6 feet, but it’s better than nothing.
Passengers Wearing Masks Most airlines mandate that passengers wear a mask during boarding and while flying, though some do allow passengers to take them off to eat and drink. Masks are still the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even on airplanes. Back at the beginning of the pandemic, a man who later tested positive for COVID-19 flew all the way from Wuhan to Toronto but wore a mask the whole time. No other passengers were infected. While the risks may be less severe than you thought, you should still exercise caution. Practice social distancing during the boarding and disembarking processes as best you can and keep up to date on any outbreaks at your destination. Just because things are safer than you thought doesn’t mean you should throw caution into the air filtration system.
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