This Harvard research may be the best news about COVID-19 and the holidays

November is finally upon us and with the cold weather comes the warm festive holiday season. Sadly, though, many of us have had to forgo travel plans to visit family this year but according to research flying shouldn’t be something you fear.

Due to the powerful filtration and ventilation systems aboard most commercial airlines as long as passengers adhere to mask wearing and other SARS-CoV-2 mitigation techniques the chances of spreading or getting infected are relatively low.

Ladders found this anxiety reducing information from a recent study found in full here. 

The comforting case study on planes and COVID-19

A group of researchers from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard utilized a computerized model to track airflow in cabins onboard different airplanes.

The study, yet to be peer reviewed, discovered these powerful ventilation and filtration systems filter out 99% of airborne viruses and contaminants. This is fantastic news, however, this does not mean travelers can become lax in mask wearing, social distancing, or sanitation methods to decrease their chances of becoming infected with this life-threatening virus.

While in-flight passengers are protected in well ventilated areas this does not protect those folks who take off masks in the bathroom and don’t wash or sanitize their hands, people who come in close contact with fomites while snacking in the lounge, or those who don’t adhere to social distancing guidelines talking too close to other passengers or family members that drop them off at the gate before boarding a packed flight.

All of these activities increase your chances of becoming infected and should be avoided at all costs. It’s important to protect yourself and others every step of the way before traveling.

The findings in this recent study were backed up by another recent review conducted by the US Transportation Command, The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, and the Air Mobility Command for in-flight safety in regards to risk associated with transmitting or contracting COVID-19.

A total of two aircrafts were filled up with sensors to essentially set up a “mock full-flight” of traveling passengers. Researchers set up a test dummy wearing a mask and simulated coughing fits to see how far the virus could travel in-flight for this experiment. Fluorescent aerosol tracers tracked down where this viral load was cast out into the plane.

The team of researchers discovered that these infectious particles were sucked up and filtered out by the airplane’s ventilation systems preventing them from settling on surfaces or infecting nearby passengers.

A quote pulled from this comprehensive study highlights the exciting data reassuring those folks that previously thought flying to be too dangerous an activity to visit loved ones for the holiday season.

One researcher adds, “The layered approach, with ventilation gate-to-gate, reduces the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission onboard aircraft below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out.

Airlines must also do their part in protecting their passengers. Many commercial airlines such as United States Emirates are cracking down on safety and preventative measures for business and C-suite executives.

Recent research provides safety guidelines for other airlines to adhere to in order to keep travel for business and pleasure as safe and pleasant for frequent fliers as possible.

One head researcher from the study funded by the US Transportation Command, The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, and the Air Mobility Command enforces the importance of accounting for unknowns such as unpredictable human behavior or the lack of sanitation in poorly ventilated areas next.

“The study, which was released without peer review, did not take into account other ways that people could catch the virus on aircraft — including from others coughing or breathing directly on them, from surfaces or from confined spaces such as restrooms.”

As long as you’re careful every step of the way before traveling, flying can be a low risk activity. Check out more tips and tricks to keep yourself safe this holiday season from a recent study conducted at Ladders.

Flying is much safer than Black Friday shopping, where grabbing that coveted gaming console not only puts you at higher risk for transmitting COVID-19 but it also increases your likelihood of getting shoved into a nearby display case and featured on Worldstar’s site for a “best of holiday shopping fights compilation” this year.

The takeaway

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving novel coronavirus and with that in mind we must take all of the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others for any otherwise normal activities we’d engage in for the holiday season. The mere fact airlines already have powerful ventilation systems in place definitely helps filter out any large viral loads that could potentially infect other passengers.

However, we must take into account the margin for human error and unpredictable behavioral actions from others on the flight. These studies can only be effective in protecting us from COVID-19 if we all take responsibility and keep doing the following aforementioned mitigation habits such as continued mask wearing whenever around large groups of people.