August 4, 2022

COVID-19 infection risk on airlines

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

In this study, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, calculate the chances of catching COVID-19 on a US plane flight.

The study estimates that from June 2020 through February 2021, the probability of getting COVID-19 on a totally full flight lasting 2 hours was more than 1 in 1,000, which would lead to approximately a 1 in 250 chance for such a trip as a whole. Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 jet aircraft in all coach configurations with 174 seats, in 29 rows, with six seats a piece were used for the analysis.

Overall, including about 204 million US domestic airline passengers during the June 2020 through February 2021 time period, the researchers estimated that about 100,000 cases of COVID-19 were transmitted on flights.

The researchers found a drop in transmission risk when planes had fewer passengers, whether because of the lack of demand or because airlines were leaving middle seats open. Leaving middle seats open reduced close proximity with others and appeared to lower the overall transmission risk.

The findings of the study offer a method that can be adapted as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the researchers say.

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