Scientists show evidence of coronavirus being airborne: Is flying less safe?

So, if the coronavirus is airborne doesn’t that put a new perspective on how safe flying really is during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Let’s take a look at how the highly effective airplane cabin HEPA-filters, disinfection of surfaces, wearing a mask, and passenger spacing still are the best precautions.

However, assuming that the coronavirus is indeed airborne are these precautions sufficient to prevent catching the virus inflight?

With increasing scientific evidence that the coronavirus is airborne, it has become more important than ever to wear a mask to make it as safe to fly as possible. Here’s why. YouTube/PBS.

Does new evidence that coronavirus is airborne present a new threat to safe flying?

After months of unknowns among scientists on whether COVID-19 is airborne or not a group of 239 scientists has issued a strong warning letter to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The publisher of the letter was Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The scientist-letter, which you can find here, clearly states there’s growing evidence COVID-19 is being spread airborne!

In the meantime, the WHO issued an update on its own:

Aerosols containing the COVID-19 virus suspended in the air can infect others upon inhalation in crowded, indoor spaces with poor ventilation.

Airplane cabin ventilation is good

Today’s airplane cabin ventilation is good with a close to 100% efficiency in catching germs before delivering recirculated air redistributed into the airplane cabin.

But, with the mounting evidence that the coronavirus is airborne, is the cabin ventilation system sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19, still making flying fairly safe from the airborne transmission?

Airplane cabin recirculated air and air filter

Modern airplanes all utilize recirculated air in the cabin. Recirculated cabin air means that part of the air that you breathe stays in the cabin for about three minutes before it’s being replenished with fresh air.

The air staying in the cabin for three minutes or so is constantly being cleaned utilizing a high-efficiency HEPA air filter that cleans almost 100% of any germs in the air, before being redistributed into the cabin with the aid of the recirculation (recirc) fans.

summary of airplane cabin contaminants
Here is a summary of the airplane cabin contaminants that most concern us. Aeromedical Basics.

It appears the medical scientists still don’t fully understand all the variables of airborne coronavirus dangers. However, the mounting evidence from 239 of the world’s top medical experts in the field brings up a question:

Does the airborne coronavirus possibility mean that it has become a lot more dangerous to spend hours inside the airplane?

How the airplane cabin ventilation works

  • First, the air is being produced by the engines.
  • Air then enters the airplane through the pneumatic bleed air system.
  • The air is then distributed into the cabin through the air ventilation system.
Basic airplane ventilation system
Basic airplane ventilation system schematic. Basic Jet.
  • Once inside the cabin, the air stays there for three minutes at a time. During that time the air flows through a HEPA filter and recirculated into the cabin using the recirculation fans.
  • At the same time, the air already inside the cabin is continuously mixed with fresh air from the engines.
  • Once every 3 minutes or so, this “old” cabin air is dumped overboard. New and fresh air replenishes the “old” air.

HEPA-filter or not, an overlooked fact about airborne coronavirus possibly still spreading in aircraft cabins

Do the filters at least minimize the chance of catching the airborne coronavirus inflight?

Typical airplane cabin airflow pattern
Typical passenger airplane cabin airflow pattern. Basic Jet.

As you can see from the illustration above:

There is a period of time when the cabin air causes a sharing of the same air (germs), BEFORE reaching the HEPA-filters. Basically, other passengers’ exhaled breath is repeatedly mingling with yours.

COVID-19 dosage

Being that mounting evidence shows that the coronavirus is airborne, the question now is,

Can the amount of COVID-19 exposure (dosage) you are subject to during the time you share the cabin air with an infected person make you sick?

Or, are the aerosols produced by us earthlings swiftly whisked away with the help of good air ventilation, recirculation-filters, and replenished fresh air inside modern airplane cabins?

Do the new findings from medical scientists mean that airborne coronavirus dangers are increasingly affecting safe flying? Please let us know your thoughts here!

Featured Image: Above Greenland during a transatlantic flight.

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