The risk of contracting the coronavirus aboard an airliner is “virtually nonexistent,” as long as passengers wear masks, according to a new study by the Department of Defense.
There is only a 0.003 percent chance that particles from an infected but masked passenger can infiltrate an adjoining flier’s breathing space, ABC News reported, citing the study conducted in partnership with United Airlines.
Using a mannequin equipped with an aerosol generator, 300 tests were conducted in about six months on a United plane, where technicians reproduced breathing and coughing, according to the news outlet.
During each test, 180 million particles were spewed – equivalent to how many would be expelled during thousands of coughs – as the technicians gauged how they traveled in the cabin with a mask on and off.
To recreate a full plane, sensors were placed in seats, galleys and even the jet bridge.
“99.99 percent of those particles left the interior of the aircraft within six minutes,” United rep Josh Earnest told ABC News.
“It indicates that being on board an aircraft is the safest indoor public space, because of the unique configuration inside an aircraft that includes aggressive ventilation, lots of airflow,” he added.
Last month, major US airline chiefs said their employees were reporting lower rates of coronavirus infection than the general public.
“At United, but also at our large competitors, our flight attendants have lower COVID infection rates than the general population, which is one of multiple data points that speaks to the safety on board airplanes,” United CEO Scott Kirby said during a Politico event, according to ABC News.
The International Air Transport Association last week released research saying the risk of contracting the deadly bug on a plane appears to be “in the same category as being struck by lightning.”
Among 1.2 billion travelers, the trade group found only 44 published cases of potential onboard transmission – and most of those cases occurred during the early days of the outbreak when masks were not mandated.
Air travel is down about 70 percent compared to last year, but there has been a recent increase.
“We’re seeing recovery, but we have a long way to go,” Earnest told the network.
“And even with all of this promising information about the safety of air travel and some of the advances that we’re making in terms of implementing a testing regimen, we recognize we’re not going to be anywhere close to back to normal until we have a vaccine that’s been widely distributed and administered,” he added.
Meanwhile, United on Thursday became the first US carrier to launch a COVID-19 rapid testing program for travelers out of San Francisco International Airport, NBC Bay Area reported.
Passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii will have the option to take a rapid test at the airport or a self-collected, mail-in test before their trip — and possibly bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine with a negative result, the airline said.