July 18, 2020, ©. Leeham News: It’s time to wrap our Corner series about flying during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We started the series on the 8th of May. A lot of knowledge has been gained since, about COVID-19 in general and when taking a scheduled flight.
In the first Corner, we showed the dramatic difference in the reach of a cough exhale with and without a mask, Figure 1.
Since then, the risk of airborne transmission of the virus through droplets and aerosol has been confirmed by study after study.
The touch path, on the other hand, has not got any confirming studies. I haven’t come across a study that presents the probabilities for getting COVID-19 through a touch scenario.
The other fact that has been verified is just how many that spread the virus without knowing it (asymptomatic spreading). You are infectious two days before first symptoms and the peak is the day before you feel the first symptoms.
The consequence is wearing a mask to protect others in indoor public places is now mandated by a majority of countries.
Where I live (France), we were down to 4 new COVID cases per day and million people, but it has in recent weeks grown to 8. The President has, therefore, declared masks mandatory for all public indoor places and transports (was transport only) from next week. If you don’t comply, the fine is 250€.
COVID and Flights
Surveys around flying during the pandemic have revealed people are most concerned about sitting beside an infectious person during the flight.
I have found no evidence that confirms this fear, for flights where the airliner was equipped with an Environmental Control System (ECS, Figure 2) with a modern HEPA filter (that stops 99.9% of germs included SARS-cov-2).
Many make reference to a 2003 flight with a 737-300 were a virus was spread, but it’s doubtful this old aircraft had a HEPA filter of this type.
There is convincing evidence of transmission for indoor poorly ventilated areas. This applies to several parts of the boarding and deboarding process. We know from persons that have traveled recently, airlines have a job to do here. Several are sloppy in their procedures or have none at all. This is strange as they advertise extra cabin cleaning efforts etc. Is this for the show? Don’t they research where the real risks are?
We also learned you need a certain critical load of the virus to get COVID-19, as our first line of defense, the respiratory tract mucus attacks the virus as it enters. To keep your mucus fit it shall be kept hydrated. Drinking water during flights is more important than ever.
Flying has increased rapidly in the last weeks as countries have lowered restrictions. But the first signs of backlash are there.
We have flights where several deboarding passengers have tested positive at the destination. As a consequence, positive passengers are put in quarantine and restrictions are coming back.
For international flights, such events create havoc. The only change that can help international air traffic, besides a vaccine, is testing at check-in. With so much at stake, it’s strange this hasn’t happened. The technology is there.