In the COVID world, there is more danger en route to the airport

by Christine Forbes Smith
November 20, 2020

In the COVID world, there is more danger en route to the airport. That is the unshakable conclusion of all the research into airport and aircraft cleanliness done by the industry over the past six months.

Most airports and airlines have turned check-in facilities, lounges and aircraft into operating theatres for cleanliness.

A combination of technology and risk management means consumers stand more chance of getting COVID-19 at a supermarket or restaurant than they do on a plane, according to researchers at Harvard University.

The Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI) looked at the gate-to-gate journey onboard aircraft as part of ongoing research into practices and strategies to reduce the public health risks of flying during the pandemic and found there was a low risk of transmission.

Researchers also looked at opportunities to further reduce the risks of disease transmission during air travel.

“Analysis from the report shows that ventilation of air on aircraft reduces the possibility of exposure to COVID-19, lower than other common settings, such as a grocery store or indoor restaurant.

“This effectively counters the proximity travellers are subject to during flights.”

The industry-sponsored study, undertaken on the basis of guaranteed independence, noted the frequent exchange of air and HEPA filters on planes, over 99 per cent of the particles containing the virus are removed from cabin air.

Other layers of protection included the universal wearing of facemasks by passengers and crew throughout the journey, distancing protocols and provision of strong ventilation during boarding and deplaning and disinfection of high-touch aircraft surfaces to remove contamination.

“Our team found that, together with their high-performing ventilation systems, the actions that the airlines put in place – including mandatory use of face masks – significantly reduce risks of viral transmission aboard an airplane,” said Leonard Marcus, Co-Director of APHI. was the first to develop unique COVID-19 health ratings for airlines in September to give comfort to air travellers, whether about to make a flight or planning their next adventure.

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For a COVID-19 compliance star as part of the overall safety rating, airlines must pass four of seven criteria: website information on COVID19 procedures; face masks for passengers; personal protection equipment for the crew; modified meal service; deep clean of aircraft, personal sanitizer kit and social distancing onboarding.

These are based on criteria set out by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on regional and international safety guidelines.

The new initiative is being been done exclusively with Skyscanner in the UK.

Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas said with these new findings it “is not necessary to do any independent testing as the airline themselves are doing that where necessary, and as long as the standards are followed passengers will have the ultimate in protection at the airport and on the aircraft.”

Thomas added that “it is a bit like the most dangerous part of the journey is the taxi or Uber ride to the airport and so it is with COVID-19. You are in far more danger of getting COVID-19 on route to the airport than at the airport or on the plane.” is providing its COVID-19 ratings free to passengers and is not charging airlines or airports for the service.