• Kalimera Kriti

Fact Checking: How Big is the Risk of Covid 19 Infections on Airplanes?

Journalists from the German online journal «Dialog Wissen» (DW) have dealt with the subject of corona infection during air travel. The summary of the article and a few useful additions can be found in this post.


According to DW journalists, there is a lack of scientific studies on how coronaviruses are transmitted in airplanes. There are studies though that show how the ventilation systems in aircrafts do their part to prevent transmissions. According to DW, however, the high-performance filters would not offer complete protection. It is therefore essential for flight passengers to wear highquality facemasks.


Mouth and nose protection during flight


According to the article, the mandatory protective masks should not be removed during the flight, not even in order to eat or drink something . Based on a study by Harvard University, researchers recommend not to eat, or at least to do it alternately. This means: You should make sure that your neighbor wears a facemask while you are eating.

The researchers also recommend drinking with straw while wearing the mask. Ultimately, every moment in which a mouth and nose mask is removed on the plane increases the risk of being infected, says the infection epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs, as quoted in the DW-article.

The article does not mention what kind of masks scientists recommend. However, it dedicates himself intensively to the topic of aerosols, i.e. the smallest air particles circulating in an airplane. It can therefore be assumed that CE-certified FFP2 or even FFP3 masks offer the best protection against possible infections in aircrafts.

HEPA filters in aircraft protect in parts


At first glance, the protective effect of the HEPA filters integrated in aircraft appears to be huge. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, they theoretically hold back up to 99.95% of all small particles, including viruses. However, according to the DW-article, the stale air in an airplane is not permanently exchanged for a mixture of filtered and fresh air from outside. In addition, HEPA filters would only clean those particles that are finally sucked in. The air flow in the aircraft changes due to the passengers and their movements. «It is possible that certain air proportions remain in the interior cabin longer than specified by the technical requirements,» says Professor Timo Ulrichs. As a result, the factual risk of infection increases.

In addition to the permanent wearing of masks, it is therefore also advisable to switch on the small gasper fans above the seat. According to a study by the University of Oxford, this will further improve the air quality in an aircraft. In addition, there are the usual safety measures such as washing hands, disinfecting and keeping your distance whenever possible.


Cautious travel despite vaccination


Fully vaccinated people are allowed to enter Greece without showing a negative PCR test (more on this). This relaxation is likely to be related, among other things, to studies which the DW article refers to. According to their results, people who have been vaccinated against Covid19 travel with a low risk of infection.

Nevertheless, infection epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs warns that all precautionary measures should be adhered to, especially in the ongoing transition phase, that is to say as long as not enough people have been vaccinated. There is still a minimal risk that those who have been vaccinated will infect others.


Safe travel in pandemic times seems exhausting at first glance. This is all the more true since the protective measures are not limited to the aircraft cabin, as the DW-article points out with reference to the Aviation Public Health Initiative of Harvard University. Particular caution is required in crowds of people, especially at baggage claim or in front of security checks.

Nevertheless, the flight to near Crete should be absolutely feasible if the necessary measures are observed. While sitting in a narrow plane, the long-exhausted slogan of solidarity in pandemic times regain the meaning it actually deserves. If you have decided to fly to Crete in 202, do it carefully. Do it for the sake of your health, for the person sitting next to you and for the Cretan citizens. And first of all, stay relaxed. Take it «siga siga», as the Greeks keep saying. You can do without overcooked pasta with tomato sauce in a flying can when the best Greek food is awaiting you in a wonderful tavern right by the sea. Kalo Taxidi, have a good trip.



Sources

The whole DW-Article in German:

https://www.dw.com/de/faktencheck-wie-gro%C3%9F-ist-die-ansteckungsgefahr-im-flugzeug/a-57310652


Sources adopted by DW:

https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/27/8/taaa212/5976283

https://www.bfarm.de/SharedDocs/Risikoinformationen/Medizinprodukte/DE/schutzmasken.html;jsessionid=7F15C73F624D599A036EB147496AEF5C.2_cid344#Partikelfiltrierende_Halbmasken_(FFP-Masken)

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/27/3/20-4714_article

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0402-travel-guidance-vaccinated-people.html

https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2443/2020/10/Phase-One-Report-Highlights-1.pdf

https://npli.sph.harvard.edu/resources-2/aviation-public-health-initiative-aphi/

https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/coronaviren-umwelt#welchen-nutzen-haben-mobile-luftreinigungsgerate-zur-reduzierung-der-infektionsgefahr