It is no surprise that when COVID-19 hit the US, the travel industry took one of the biggest hits financially.
This made sense, as many of us know that avoiding enclosed crowded spaces is one of the simplest ways to reduce your chances of contracting the virus. However, new information suggests that traveling via airplane is actually pretty safe — and you may even be less likely to contract COVID-19 on a flight than in most places.
Despite what many might think, the CDC reported that it’s unlikely a virus or disease will spread widely on a flight, so long as it’s not overcrowded.
However, while sitting on a plane doesn’t seem to be an issue, getting there is a separate story. The CDC pointed out that security lines and crowded airport terminals could bring you into close contact with other people, leading to potential risk of infection.
This is why it’s important to take additional precautions such as wearing a face mask, disinfecting surfaces before touching them, and washing your hands regularly. Most airports also have additional measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible and avoid overcrowding.
If you do choose to travel by airplane, where you sit could make a difference in how likely you are to be exposed to the virus and other people. Even with social distancing precautions in place on planes, people often move about the cabin during their flight, bringing them into closer contact with others.
A study conducted in 2018 observed the behaviors of passengers and crew on 10 transcontinental U.S. flights to determine the risk of transmission of respiratory diseases. The study revealed that the window seat is actually the safest place to sit to avoid infection.
And then a paper from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that the chances anyone will contract COVID-19 on a plane, even with every coach seat filled, are only 1 in 4,300. And by leaving every middle seat empty, those chances reduce to 1 in 7,700.
“Suppose you’re seated in an aisle seat or a middle seat and I walk by to go to the lavatory,” Howard Weiss, a leader in the study said. “We’re going to be in close contact, meaning we’ll be within a meter. So if I’m infected, I could transmit to you…Ours was the first study to quantify this.”
Another factor, Weiss explained, is that window seat passengers are less likely to get up and move around on a flight than those in the aisle and middle seats. Regardless, Weiss said the chance of transmission is still fairly low due to how brief contact would be when passing someone in an aisle.
“If you’re seated in an aisle seat, certainly there will be quite a few people moving past you, but they’ll be moving quickly,” Weiss said. “In aggregate, what we show is there’s quite a low probability of transmission to any particular passenger.”
However, it is important to note that this doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and jump on the first plane out of town. After all, Dr. Anthony Fauci says flying is one of the activities he would absolutely avoid right now.