Avoiding the contagion of Covid-19 on an airliner

security distances on a jet
distances on a jet

The possibilities of catching the coronavirus on a commercial flight are not negligible, alas.

As I already wrote here, aircraft manufacturers around the world claim that, on a line jet, the entire air is filtered by a HEPA filter every two minutes, which eliminates 99.97% of bacteria and viruses , including coronavirus. Not only that, but every time it is filtered, the air is mixed 50% with clean air from outside. Is such a system enough to protect us from contagion? Wouldn’t it be better to hire a private jet, and finally be safe from unpleasant surprises?

infected areas
infected areas

Professor Yan Chen, a research doctor at Purdue University in the United States, who collaborates with Boeing and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration of the USA) has some doubts about this. In fact, apart from the fact that the air is filtered in its entirety rather every four minutes, and not two or three as claimed by the aircraft manufacturers, filtration does have a certain efficiency. The air, 50% mixed with clean air from the outside, is blown from above, and then sucked in at floor level, to be effectively filtered.

Professeur Yan CHEN - Phd
Professeur Yan CHEN – Phd

The problem is that, during the four minutes in which it remains in the cabin, viruses and covid have all the time to be transmitted from one passenger to another, circulating via the droplets emitted when we cough, we sneeze, when we speak or simply when we breathe. Moreover, in a crowded plane, it is impossible to respect the distance of one and a half meters between passengers, retained essential by virologists worldwide to avoid contagion.

air circulation
air circulation

Air circulation on the plane

Moreover, airlines affirm unanimously that to follow the recommendations of the European authorities, i.e. leaving every other seat and row empty, would be economically unbearable.


Passengers infected on the Hong-Kong Beijing flight

The professor is based on a concrete case concerning SARS, or COVID-1, which had transmission modalities comparable to those of Covid-19, both being coronaviruses. In 2003, 20 passengers on the Hong Kong Beijing China Airways flight CA112 caught the virus because of a passenger who was sick with SARS Covid-1, sitting in seat E-14, see image. However, as the picture shows, nine of the infected passengers were seated more than 2 m from the sick passenger. The professor explains this with the fact that, when a passenger gets up to go to the bathroom, for example, he will move the air passing by the patient, and spread it within a radius of a few meters, also affecting other passengers seated further away.

infected passangers on the Hong-Kong Bejing flight
infected passangers on the Hong-Kong Bejing flight

Measures to take to avoid the possibility of contagion

The ideal would be to fly on a private jet, with few passengers, who are normally the people you usually meet, in your family or at the workplace. Indeed, it is practically impossible to reduce to zero, to completely avoid the risk of contagion on a scheduled flight. However, we can take precautions:

  • Wear quality masks, even if it is not compulsory. The professor claims to have avoided taking a scheduled flight because the airline did not prescribe wearing of masks.
  • Keep distances as far as possible when transiting at the airport
  • Avoid moving around while on the plane.

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