Bjorn’s Corner: Do I get COVID in airline cabins? Part 4.

By Bjorn Fehrm

May 29, 2020, ©. Leeham News: In our Corner series about flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, we go deeper into the cabin airflow and procedures around the flight.

The riskiest phase of the flight is not when you sit down. The cabin airflow then transports the viruses away from your breathing. It’s the phases before and after the flight that are the danger zones.

Figure 1. The airflow in a passenger jet. Source: Leeham Co.

How does the airflow protect me from being infected in an airliner?

The air conditioning system in an airliner, called the Environmental Control System (ECS), is designed to transport the exhaled air from passengers, and any germs it contains, away from the passenger breathing area.

To achieve this, it uses a downward flow (Figure 1), with air entering at the roof/bin level and exiting at the bottom of the sidewalls. It then returns in cargo-bay channels to the ECS mixing unit via hospital-grade HEPA filters that capture 99.9% of the germs, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

At the ECS mixing unit, re-circulating and outside air is mixed about 50:50 before re-entering the cabin at outlets in the roof and the overhead bins.

The downward flow in the seat rows is helped by the seatbacks, forming aerodynamic funnels, and the air in the cabin is exchanged 20 to 30 times an hour, an exchange rate that is to hospital standards.

Problem areas during the flight are movements in the aisle which will cause turbulence, thus potentially upsetting the orderly downward flow. This is why serving by the cabin crew will be minimized and passenger movements shall be restricted to lavatory visits.

Boarding and deboarding is the problem area

Passengers fear the flight because they will be sitting next to strangers for a long time, with little control of the situation. Yet, this is probably the safest part of the whole trip.

For the airlines, the boarding and deboarding phase is the larger problem. At this phase, passengers easily end up face to face with minimal distances, Figure 2.

Figure 2. Boarding and deboarding are risk areas. Source: The Conversation.

Airlines must introduce strict zone boarding to avoid such scenes, with the rear of the cabin and window seats boarding first, then the middle seats, and finally aisle seats. Then the next zone and so on.

Recent research points to SARS-CoV-2 spreading more over droplets than aerosols. This is why masks are so effective, as they stop the droplets in exhaled breathing air from reaching co-passengers, Figure 3.

Figure 3. The efficiency of masks of stopping the spread of droplets.

So masks are essential in this phase, but they can easily dislocate while putting bags in the bins or making one’s way to a seat.

COVID-19 will require a new level of passenger discipline to manage all phases of flights safely.

53 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Do I get COVID in airline cabins? Part 4.

  1. Thanks Bjorn for the quick analysis. That being said, there was a video on CNBC a few weeks ago where it showed what happens when a person sneezes/coughs.

    It didn’t look good however as you mentioned, wearing a mask will certainly help.

    That being said, until there is a vaccine or my family and I have antibodies against the virus, we don’t plan on flying.

    • I put the FAU no-mask and mask cough simulation into this Corner as well to show the effect.

      Masks are essential for getting into any confined public spaces like shopping centers, buses, trains, subways, etc. And airports and airliners of course.

  2. Still not totally convinced.
    I would interested to learn about how often the air is changed as I gather that it is variable. Its quite noticeable how hot and stuffy a budget airliner gets before it moves away from the gate.

    • Hi Grubbie,

      this is when the airline doesn’t have the APU supplying the power and air to the ECS during boarding and deboarding. It will be required to have the ECS at full speed during these phases to keep the air changing every two to three minutes. There will be a number of adaptations required to master this situation.

  3. Hi

    Could I ask you for a link to the “recent research has re-confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 is spread by droplets and not aerosols”.

    That’s an important point, and I’d love to see the study or studies.

    Many tks for this excellent and helpful series.

  4. Thanks Björn for this excellent article.

    What we will need is a new boarding system. Here’s my proposal:

    At the gate a large display shows the seat number of each passenger who is to board. The next 10 or 15 seat number will also be shown in a smaller format so those passengers can prepare.

    The IFE displays can do the same job for deplaning. They light up with a short message for each passenger when it’s their turn to get up, collect their hand-luggage and get going.

    • Good ideas Gundolf,

      the large displays are there. Today’s boarding annunciators are able to provide the info you suggest. And the IFE/Safety Video monitors in the cabin can show the deboarding seat numbers.

    • Agreed Gundolf, that’s an excellent idea that uses existing technology in an innovative way to address the problem. Good thinking!

  5. This is the end of Covid-19 scare. In autumn people will fly again as if nothing has ever happened.

    • That’s what people thought with the first wave of the 1918 pandemic, it’s all over. A second wave now could either of 2 things, less deadly or even more deadly. As Covid diease has quite a long incubation time and a high proportion with little or no symptoms for a respiratory disease imagine what could happen if the proportion with no symptoms halved second time around.

      • @dukeofurl
        The second wave could also be ‘as deadly’ as if a definitive deadliness calculation is already possible of the first wave-

        but the first wave is not all that very deadly, so far at least, to those under 80 years old

        Saying how deadly it is is quite a dramatic formulation – like discussion travel in cars or bikes exclusively from a ‘how deadly’ point of view – how deadly is bike travel in Iowa this week? compared to Poland?

        Odd that in all your comments and posts a basic element such as the 80 year olds is never mentioned

        It may be that the over 80’s do not travel as much as the under 80’s

        In any case why not segregate?

        From what I can see of all your formulations it looks like on top of the ‘security’ issue with airtravel is to be added a ‘bug’ issue, airports will need to be re designed to respect the social distancing, body searches redesigned, bag pick up, waiting rooms, toilets just about everything from the control towers on down

        Are you willing to redesign the airports?

        Anybody willing to estimate costs on these redesigns, plus estimates of how many fewer pax per plane, plus costs of, plus costs from additional wait times and journey times?

        Plus apply this analysis across all social activities and estimate whether social political consensus and possibility of behaviour control is going to allow all these airtravel formulations to take off

        • Our State (AK) lifted the restrictions (local cities and towns still have theirs in place).

          We had a sudden jump to 15 cases when we had had a month or more of zero to 3 cases a day.

          Anyone who thinks this is gone or going away is terribly wrong

      • A significant factor in the second wave of 1918 was the end of the war and the mass transport of the virus as troops retuned home. This wasn’t understood then and no precautions were taken.

        In some sense the second wave of 1918 resembles the first wave of 2020. In 1918 that much travel was an unusual event, in 2020 it was commonplace.

        We should do better now if a second wave arises. It will be tracked well, and the risks of travel & contact are much better understood and fresh in people’s minds.

        Given that much of the world has driven the R value below one, and that more or less has been a mechanical achievement (lockdown, social distancing, masks, etc), those measures should also be effective against any new strains.

        • @Rob
          I have to disagree with you – you imagine the possibility or probability of a second wave

          Plus – I assume you are open to the possibility/probability of mutation, and of new bugs, given the underlying context of bug production will not change soon, and you mention no bug production prevention programs and are wise enough to put no faith in a ‘vaccine’

          (Leave aside the probability – it would be prudent to plan so- that next mutation and bugtwo three and four would be more virulent)

          As solution to keep deaths down you envisage continuing lockdowns etc, head in the sand let’s hide solutions

          This for a number of years, one must assume, in the lack of any other measures (you mention none)

          You have already observed the negative economic results of such lockdowns, which will not make full impact until later and will carry on for years, with attendant poverty and deaths perhaps to predict far in excess of bug deaths, both US and Worldwide

          (you do not know and it is hard to foresee the exact results of lockdowns but it is probably so)

          And you have observed bipolar public reactions to this one, sometimes panicked into cowering at home, sometimes desperate for the old freedoms

          Do you imagine an ongoing ten years? or more? of such?

          Let alone re design of all basic infrastructure including of course airtravel

          This is, read Edward Gibbon, a description of the fall of Rome, China The Han playing the part of The Hun

          That is to say an Empire exhausted incapable of invention the prey to that which they can not understand nor control

          • Gerrard, I was just pointing out that the world has responded to the current crisis and has reduced the rate of infection. It remains to be seen if that is enough, if further efforts will be required, or if there will be a resurgence as controls are relaxed.

            Experience with past viruses suggests there is a level of reduction at which it can be contained and controlled. We don’t know yet the level that will be required, or if that is entirely possible.

            The opposite approach is to allow immunity to develop in the population, as per Sweden. Their rate of infection is falling as well. And that has costs too, as we have learned.

            It may well be that it will end up being a combination of both effects, and things we haven’t foreseen yet.

            Also I have not written off the possibility of a vaccine. I suspect it won’t be easy but a huge effort s being made, so it may bear fruit. It isn’t wrong to try.

            I agree with your comments as to looking at the origins of these viruses and seeking to avoid the jump to humans. I think China has taken some initial steps in that direction.

        • @Rob

          Previous experience with viruses was not very much use when dealing with this one, it seems

          Always best to plan for the worst, especially when one has failed to plan and prepare at all for the current bug

          Reduction of an infection rate is hardly the end of the bug – it’s out there, nothing will put it back in the bottle – it will work it’s course, the current figure is 6M known infected humans out of 8B, one ‘has to assume’ that many times 6M are or have been infected – it is unlikely that such a high figure can be described as ‘containment’

          Nobody knows nothing about this bug, yet, and will not for a good while – I’m using the word know in the sense of useful definite knowledge, that would, say, justify (or negate) the need to re design of all basic global infrastructure, housing, factories, transit, the whole lot

          The context of the production of this and these bugs is not limited to China, it has to do with global expansion of ind ag into previously virgin land especially tropical, and is almost just as likely to occur in the locations of US or Europe factory farming

          Changing course here would take a generation at least

          Meanwhile, like Sweden, bite the bullet, prepare the optimal introduction of herd immunity

          • In theory influenzas and pandemics can originate everywhere. In practice they originate in China. Non of the African ones such as Marburg or Ebola spread outside of HIV. That includes the Spanish Flu which did not originate in Kansas. I mulled with difficulty as to whether I can say this but isn’t it right to speak the truth.

            The issue should not be primarily of how to prevent aviation spreading the disease or lockdowns or vaccines that will be forced upon people with totalitarian force. The issue should be of how to prevent antigenic shift mutation which accounts for new viral subtypes capable of engendering pandemics. These new viral types originate in ducks, chickens, pigs, and other animals especially wild animals nor raised in a controlled environment in this case bats. The pangulan was blamed for a while, both animals killed in some wet markets. In china of course millions of people live in close proximity to these animals which themselves live close to other animals. T

            I’ve been to that country several times, its very modern in parts and not in others. Here are some of the factors
            1 There are few hand washing facilities, almost non.
            2 In many countries diseased animals, eg those suffering the current African swine flew epidemic in pigs in Asia are not destroyed, burned and buried but illegally slaughtered in their sick state for sale as meat. This exposes those handling the meat.
            3 In wet markets where people go to buy vegetables, seafood and meat both customers and vendors handle the meat to test how fresh it is. Since there are no hand washing facilities for vendor or customer this spreads disease through person to person contact and money handling.
            4 There are no animal cruelty laws. You can do anything to an animal and it is not illegal though you may upset people. In a few wet markets wild animals are brought for slaughter, often in front of other animals and these wild animals carry diseases from reservoirs in the wild.
            5 Public spiting and snoting is prevalent.
            6 Public toilets do not provide toilet paper and often don’t have hand washing facilities so if people forget and need to then its a problem. Consumption of wold animals should probably be made illegal in city markets. Hopefully the totalitarian party with their immense power and control of propaganda and social media will change practices. I place little faith in the WHO. It is a political body and the election of the secretary General comes from the votes of powerful nation who will insist the small nations vote a certain way or there may be difficulty obtaining that loon decree. It is not a system we can ever rely on. A vaccine will always be too late.

          • @william

            in practice too – 2009 swine flu originated pig farming in Mexico

            The Spanish flu, some say Kansas some say France and so on, no one can say for sure

            the so called wet markets and the ‘wild’ animal consumption is part of the same nexus – the wild animals are farmed, just as pigs etc are, and next to

            Just luck nothing has come out of Tyson or Smithfield yet – what has come out is very poor quality drugged meat which when humans eat it weakens them renders them obese and easy prey

            Ebola can escape it’s Congo base, the more foreigners poke around there, it was just barely contained last time 2014/2015, there is a vaccine for one of the three or four types known to exist, and as with all these bugs many more lurking in the shadows

            Identifying the country is not as useful as identifying the structure of factory farming and consumption identical worldwide which is going everywhere to create ideal conditions for bug production

            Getting Chinese, or Africans, not to spit, etc is secondary: generally it’s not easy to tell the dirt poor how to behave, whether in Kansas or Beijing or Kinshasa, it’s probable that upping their income considerably would help

          • Latest genetic research shows that COVID has a genetic component that likely came from the pangolin virus. COVID appears to be a hybrid of the bat and pangolin viruses, which then was able to mutate to the form that infects humans.

            Still not completely definitive as to the intermediate host, as there could be others as well, but it looks like the pangolin was involved in the mutation chain.

          • @Rob
            As I have pointed out ‘it looks like’ is far from definite and definitive knowledge

            (Besides the Asia pangolin is farmed, like a pig why not a pangolin, except they are good natured mild mannered animals and it is hard to see another animal put through factory farming torture)

            ‘Knowledge’ of this bug is so incomplete policy decisions other than knee jerk panic are impossible to assess and operate

            Much of this farming is done in land reclaimed from or proximate to wild in which bats live, which intermingle with the animals, they urinate they spit they fight for scraps

            This allover the world, Amazon, Africa, Asia

            In Africa low population density and no yet factory farming has kept local outbreaks small

            When the african masses get a taste for meat anywhere near the taste the US Asia indulges in, then the creation of the same conditions (factory farming in reclaimed land) as seen in Asia will produce multiple bugs

            Reacting to bug is never going to work, this one spread it seems long before anyone knew it was there, after all that is the point of their existence, to use human bodies, not to kill them, they too are in factory farming business, and they are much better at it than humans are

            Once this is understood attitudes will change, and – perhaps – the whole global infrastructure base will not be altered to accommodate incompetence and ignorance, but the means of bug production modified in favour of humans less in favour of bugs

          • Gerrard, William had mentioned the pangolin so I was just reporting that the latest research is pointing back to that as the probable host again.

            I think your view that we have a lot to learn is valid, but I don’t think it means we despair or are helpless in the face of the virus, nor do I think it implies knee-jerk or panic mode.

            As you said, you are proposing long-term generational change, but we can also do things in the short term as well, and it’s not wrong to investigate those things too.

          • @Rob

            No one says humans are helpless – yet to accept that the bug owns superior logistics due to the circumstances of production of the ‘viral event’, is the best way to start to understand what can be done

            Lockdown martial law whatever merely reproduces, in efficiently and at excess cost and lives, what traditionally has been the only effective protection against such clever events – low population density

            In high density industrial societies to continue to attempt to mimic low density, by overall infrastructure re design is a too expensive b not going to work

            There is no point in inventing a clean plane if the rest of the world is unclean – this is the Life on Mars we got the tech approach which got you into this deathrace in the first place

            95% of the bug kills are 80 + year olds – why? Because these are, mostly, weak already sick multiple year many drug treated people kept alive beyond their ‘normal’ span

            Segregate this lot – if you wish to keep such a percentage on what is life support –

            The rest of you should accept that a few will die for this bug, a few will not feel great for a few weeks, and so on

            Not worth re building all infrastructure for at the cost of hundreds of trillions of dollars you do not have

            Then clean up your health, healthcare, and what you eat

  6. Thanks again Bjorn for a very interesting post on the subject.

    My understanding is that the “transmission debate” is still raging in the scientific community. The articles I have read indicate a lot of uncertainty in simple breathing vs coughing vs sneezing, aerosols vs droplets, etc. Too many gray zones to be categorical but I’m certain a lot of reputable people and institutions are studying the problem.

    Keep up the good work though. I love to read your posts.

  7. If you were sat in an airliner next to a mask wearing Covid-19 sufferer in his infections phase for anything over a half hour then I suspect you’d have a fair chance of becoming infected yourself.

    Not all the transmission pathways are via suspended droplets that you breath in. Your neighbour, being human, will almost certainly be touching and re-adjusting his mask, which he may well have been wearing all day and which will be sodden with contamination.

    He’ll also use his hands to touch his seat belt, maybe pass you yours if it’s under him, he’ll touch the light switch, the air outlet, the attendant call switch. He’ll touch the armrest that you’re sharing and he’ll touch the overhead bin door – he may touch your luggage to move it out of the way.

    If you touch any of these things you’ll have his viral particles on your hands and if you then take your hands near to your face, pick, scratch or rub your nose, suck the pen you’ve been holding, rub your eye, pop a mint in your mouth – job done!

    Back in the day there were things you could buy at the airport shop called disposable Smoke Hoods – I’d like to design one with a hose in it and a hollow neoprene thing you can stick in the air vent above your head – a bit like those small orange ear defenders you can mould into your ears. It would guarantee you only got aircon flow rather than his infectious exhalations, and it would also protect your face, nose, mouth and eyes from yourself.

    At any rate, it would be a smart move to also use gloves, and to disinfect the seat buckle and armrest. Wear a mask yourself and change it frequently during the flight and afterwards. I hope the cabin crew/cleaning crews are armed with plenty of disinfectant.

    Overkill? Well, the flight crew at my airline are doing these sorts of things to protect themselves from each other and they’re much better spaced out – wrong phrase but I can’t think of another – than the passengers.

    • Hi Chris,

      your give examples of infection via the contact path. Despite all the studies and research around COVID-19 and how its virus SARS-CoV-2 spreads, there has been no proof of a contact path infection.

      Why? The research I’ve read concludes the air path is highly contagious as it can transport a large enough virus load to our sensitive nose/lung areas and there overwhelm our first line of defense, the T-cells (if they are not overwhelmed the infection doesn’t bite).

      The contact path, on the other hand, has a low probability of transporting a large enough viral load to this area, especially in an aircraft as SRARS-CoV-2 is dependent on humidity to survive in free air. The longevity of the virus on different surfaces depends on how it dries out. On porous surfaces, it dries out fast, on others (metal, plastic) not. This research has been made in normal still air.

      Aircraft air is not normal. It’s incredibly dry and windy (about 1 m/s wind speed). Any virus on surfaces will dry out quickly, meaning any surface you touch will have a lower viral load than usual on your fingers/hands.

      Then this lower viral load has to somehow get past your mask to your humid tissues in the nose or lungs before it dries out further in this dry air. Once there it has to be large enough to overwhelm your T-cells to cause an infection.

      There is no guaranteed safety wherever we are during this Pandemic. It’s all about the relative level of safety, about probabilities. The argument is you expose yourself to a low risk of infection in a controlled airplane trip when air travel restarts, lower than in many other daily settings.

    • Good point about masks and the longer term effect of touching them and readjustment. I suspect that passengers will need to be issued with 3 or more disposable masks. One for boarding, one for disembarkation and another for movement to toilets. The problem then arises of collection, stowage and disposal of these masks. Nurses will tell you that masks introduce their own risks.

      I also think passengers will need to be issued with a hand sanitiser gel or hand wipe which they must be promoted to use.

      • While I think Bjorn has done an excellent job on this and he is making clearer aspects I did not know, there remains the aspect of both your departure spot and your destination (not just the germinal). You can control your departure to some degree (fairly high levels with planning ala being dropped off by someone you live with).

        Still, if its not controlled on either end, you are exposed on one or both ends.

        Why would you travel? Its not to see your Aunt Jane who is a recluse in the North woods of Minnesota.

        And even if you were, taxi, rental , public transit, hotels, food all expose you to people who are emissive.

        An airplane is not a sole entity – its part of a system (Fuel, water, lavs, runways, terminals, maint) nor are people just a isolated aircraft travelers.

        People exist in a system as well.

        While we are all deeply interested in aircraft and air travel the issue has to be assessed risk wise as the sytem.

  8. Air in cabin is filtered/ refreshed every few minutes. While that is very good, even normally required, viruses in air spread in seconds. Way beyoong any aircopacks capacity.

    While the exchange 20 to 30 times an hour is to hospital standards, people are more distanced in a hospital than in an aircraft cabin.

    Large droplets fall rapidly onto the ground within 1 s. But there is little very ground/ floor in a packed economy class.

    Scientist are speaking of good and less ventilated rooms. But they don’t reference a “typical room” to be packed with 40-50 people from all over the world, for hours, similar to an aircraft cabin.

    “Recent research has re-confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 is spread by droplets and not aerosols.”
    I think that is not correct.

    “Passengers fear the flight because they will be sitting next to strangers for a long time, with little control of the situation.”
    Let’s avoid suggesting this is an emotional challenge. It is physics & virology.

  9. Completely agree the boarding and (even more so) deboarding appear (I’ll go with this rather than are) the riskiest parts. But the ACH argument needs clarification and I remain unconvinced by the straightforward “the air flow froms from top to bottom, it is safe” in flight argument.

    ACH first. My understanding is that the ACH is considered relevant insofar as it dilutes contaminent concentration, rather than any expectation that it will “flush away” all contaminant. So the volume of the space experiencing the stated ACH must be taken into account. I believe that 12 ACH (intake low, exhaust high) is now the required level by ASHRAE for hospital isolation rooms (although the EU EUNID project was satsified with 6 back in he 2000s) but that is 12 changes of air in a room where the ratio of room volume to patient is far, far higher than the ratio of airliner cabin volume to passenger in an airliner. My conclusion from this, disregarding any ther factors, is that referencing 20 ACH as “hospital standards” stretches things too far. Could it be? Maybe. But it needs supporting evidence. On top of that, what standard do airliner cabins actually need to reach, specifically is there any need to even approach “hospital standards”?

    For the airflow itself, what studies/simulations have you seen that support the “orderly downward flow” as you put it? None of the simulations I’ve seen even have the airflow that enters from above the lockers having solely a vertical component (mid way between horizontal and vertical seems a better guess at airflow direction at that point), and this is followed by considerable swirl and complexity. I’ve no knowledge of the background of people making these models, of their ‘quality/skill’ or of the quality of the CFD packages. Again, it is simply that I’m looking for supporting evidence.

  10. @Bjorn

    This case study is relevant for the discussion.

    “Lack of COVID-19 transmission on an international flight”
    “The patients travelled from Wuhan to Guangzhou, then Guangzhou to Toronto, Canada, arriving on Jan. 22, 2020.

    The index patient was symptomatic with dry cough during the flight. His wife developed cough on Jan. 23. Both sets of throat and nasopharyngeal swabs collected were positive for COVID-19.

    There were approximately 350 passengers on board the airplane. …”

    None of the other passengers acquired Covid-19 from the index patient who had been wearing a mask.

    • Agreed, there has been no evidence that passenger flight itself is a risk. Bjorn is trying to establish the scientific basis for that result so that we can approach the problem in a reasoned manner.

      The true risk in allowing flight has been in transporting the infection from one place to another, across large distances. That will remain a problem going forward, but the vast majority of people are healthy. So a lot will continue to depend on people quarantining themselves, or being quarantined, during their illness.

      However some resistance to flight will remain, and some people will not be convinced by reason or data. So it will need to be demonstrated and proven by practice.

      For that we need flight to resume on a limited basis with monitoring established via contact tracing or other statistical means. There will be plenty of early adopters, I would not hesitate after seeing that the airline has instituted reasonable controls. As that practice expands and there are no dire effects, travel will gradually resume, and will eventually include the doubters as well.

      As in all such matters, the thing to avoid is one group trying to make decisions for another. If you don’t think flying is safe, you can choose not to fly, that’s perfectly fine. No one is going to force you. For others who are ready to fly again, they too should be able to make that decision for themselves, and have flights available. That is what I think we will see going forward.

      • There was a lot of concern and questions regarding the repatriation of citizens traveling around the world, when the virus first started. If I had to fly right now, I’d get a full face respirator and wear it upon entering the origin airport, until exiting at the destination airport. It might look strange, but, I’d rather sacrifice a few strange looks my way, then the risk of being in a large crowd with no way to tell who has the virus or not. Evan folks with no symptoms, can be contagious. As for travelers entering a country, should they be quarantined for 14 days, after exiting the aircraft? Or, just be free to roam around possibly spreading the virus? It’s spread to almost every corner of the world in just a few months. The only place safe seems to be a nuclear submarine, if you began your cruise in 2019.

        • I think the quarantine issue is best resolved on the boarding end. There could be rudimentary checking at boarding, and also a full refund policy for anyone who decides not to fly due to illness, or is rejected at the gate. Similarly if you are immunocompromised, you should not be traveling.

          As with carry-on compliance, I think people will for the most part self-regulate and not fly if they are at risk. Contact tracing is a means to this end, if you are identified as having had contact, you would be tested and cleared before flying again.

          There is no perfect system and some infection will inevitably slip through. As with many other forms of gathering, that will be a cost that society will decide to bear, in order to remain open and life to continue. It will be a balancing act, there may be some bans if the risk is too high. We have to figure it out as we go, based on what we learn.

  11. Broadly speaking I agree with the premises in this series with a bit of a caveat… while I do not believe that a COVID-19-positive person is likely to infect a plane load of people for the reasons outlined, I do believe that there is significant risk if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be seated in close proximity to that person – either beside them or perhaps in the seats immediately in front of them.

    It is generally prolonged exposure or exposure to significant load that will result in you contracting the virus.

  12. So do we open or close the air supply nozzles ?
    Fully open for each passenger would appear to be the most rational requirement.

    • That’s an interesting question. Someone has to model the airflow, I suspect that you are right, but maybe they should be disabled.

    • This is studied by the OEMs right now. Correctly set and directed they could help but incorrectly directed they do harm. But the correct setting varies for each cabin config and each seat row.

      Right now the recommendation is not to use them as incorrectly set they can potentially harm the downward airflow.

  13. I’ve been wondering what a safe return might look like, in terms of airline policy and procedures. Bjorn has given us some good information, and there are other good ideas from commenters here as well. Some will say it isn’t possible, but setting that aside for a moment, what is the best effort that we could make?

    For example, having extra space in the terminal for distancing, more counter space, more TSA lanes, should be possible if flights are reduced. Passengers asked to cancel and avoid the airport if not feeling well, with no penalty. Asked to wear a disposable mask and bring another in a sealed package for arrival. Airlines dispense a new disposable mask, hand sanitizer, face wipes, for each passenger for the flight, collect and dispose all used materials.

    Passengers checked for symptoms or fever at TSA, asked for contact history beforehand. Obvious signs of illness are not boarded, questionable or contact history are given tests. Again no penalty for rejection.

    Crew has additional personal protection such as face masks, gloves, etc.

    Boarding in single file by assigned seat as Gundolf suggested. Movement restricted to lavatory by permission with cleaning in between. Hand sanitizer use enforced before and after lavatory, also if meals/snacks/beverage are served. Any sneezing coughing to be done into facewipes with disposal in airsick bags. Provision of isolation seating if needed for passengers who display symptoms or don’t cooperate.

    Debark also in single file, again using assigned seating and terminal space to avoid congestion. Protected staff to hand out baggage to waiting but distanced passengers. Passengers don their new masks before leaving.

    So what else could be done, or are there better alternatives to these ideas?

  14. It’s not going to fly.
    Even if I don’t get covid-19 on an airliner, there are still going to be buses, trains, airports and hotels. Also the risk of being seriously ill in a foreign country and the risk of infecting elderly relatives on return or people at the destination.
    Come back when there is more reliable information.

  15. Well, that was a negative answer. The thing is, this is going to happen, one way or another. Airlines have already begun to reschedule flights for the fall. People will want to resume their lives, which include travel.

    If some don’t wish to travel, they can stay home, but others will move forward and come up with solutions. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

    I was just thinking about how those solutions might take shape. I don’t have the answers and am not saying this is how it will be done. But I don’t doubt there will be answers and society will move forward.

    • Given that my work is drying up, I will try to take every precaution and take the risk of flying to a carefully selected destination if necessary.
      As I am over 50,that decision is a bit marginal with the information currently available. Under 30s risk is so low that they need only consider the effect on others. Social distancing cannot work at airports if the airlines are operating at anywhere near capacity.

      • Airlines won’t be operating at their former capacity for some time yet. By the time they are, the need for social distancing should be reduced. In the meantime, airports can take advantage of the additional physical and scheduling space to support distancing requirements.

  16. Many of us work in or are closely connected to aviation. Shrink, debts, nice families losing income, good companies getting into trouble, innovation hampered & we can’t wait for it to go away.

    The risk is we highlight only those partz of research and information that help, is positive, shows light at the end of the tunnel. If only to help ourselves, the people we know, the industry we love.

    • @keesje

      you are all promoting very partial solutions to a very small part of social/economic life as if this section was autonomous

      your modifications of airplanes, and airtravel infrastructure are exceptionally expensive, and you have not begun to describe any objective path to how this may be operated nor the cost

      -who and how decides and pays for all that you discuss, the airlines, the airports, the mayors, the feds, ‘we the people’?-

      and are rendered meaningless unless part of wider context of necessarily similar measures and controls

      testing everyone all the time everywhere? is this likely? without let’s say a small % of the population non compliant, small but significant enough to allow the bug to circulate and spread

  17. Ozone effect on Covid-19 virus?
    At altitude, the bleed air used in aircraft air systems is higher.
    (very technical article)
    Ozone may be helpful in killing the virus.
    If the amount of ozone and/or ion’s (positive and negative) could be measured during a typical flight. Ion detectors aren’t that expensive. And then see how ozone and/or ion’s effect the virus in a lab. The results could prove interesting.

  18. I understand the science of transmission although it does seem to change as more time is spent studying it. If the FAA actually mandated “No Middle Seat,” and a total restriction on capacity (with no exceptions) that could possibly bring back customers. I don’t think the flying public would look forward to showing up at the gate, board and then realize from a middle seat they are surrounded by say eight people, some in masks, others not. These pictures and videos have appeared in the media. But the FAA cannot interfere with business.

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