Now that health systems are easing up on travel restrictions, you and everyone you know will soon be scrambling for airline seats. Are there any new guidelines about where (and how) to sit during a flight? Yes, but airlines are interpreting the advice in different ways.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data (presented jointly with Kansas State University) about the safest way to travel by plane with respect to coronavirus transmission.
According to the report, leaving the middle seat of a plane empty reduces exposure to “viable” coronavirus particles by 23% to 57%.
From the report:
“The physical distancing of airplane passengers, including through policies such as middle seat vacancy, could provide additional reductions in risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 on aircraft.”
Unfortunately, most airline carriers are no longer blocking the middle passenger seat for use. In fact, Delta Air Lines is the only US carrier currently blocking middle seats in economy sections but this will reportedly change on May 1st .
“The CDC just dropped a bombshell on the airline industry,” explained Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “That’s really what this report is.”
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian is skeptical of the new findings. Early this week, he sat down with CNBC to announce the airline carrier will not change plans to start filling middle seats again in May.
“This study was based on 2017 data, so it doesn’t take into account any of the safety protocols that we’ve implemented, including masking, the electrostatic spraying (of planes), the cleanliness of the surfaces.”
“That’s the reality of this: even without the masks, they were able to reduce exposure, which is quite impressive,” commenting on the same study. “Imagine wearing a mask. That would be even more impactful. There’s no question we should keep those middle seats open.”
Two aircrafts were featured in a recent review conducted by the US Transportation Command, The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, and the Air Mobility Command for in-flight safety.
In it, each was filled up with sensors to establish a “mock flight” of traveling passengers.
Researchers subsequently employed test dummies that were wearing a mask before simulating coughing fits to test how far viral particles could travel under flight conditions. Fluorescent aerosol tracers then tracked down where these viral loads were cast out into the plane.
According to the results, these viral particles were sucked up and filtered out by the airplane’s ventilation systems which in turn prevented them from settling on surfaces or infecting nearby passengers.
If you feel you must travel, the CDC recommends the following:
- Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings, including on public transportation and in transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
- Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.