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Brief Published: 1 Sep 2020

Could Low-Covid-19 Transmission on Airplanes Boost Sales?

Airplanes may be a low-risk environment for Covid-19 transmission

As passengers return to air travel – 862,949 people flew within the US on August 16, up from the all-time low of 87,534 travellers on April 14 (TSA, 2020) – new research into transmission risk on planes suggests Covid-19 may be a low threat for fliers. Will it convince travellers to resume flying?

A study published in Jama Network Open from researchers at Frankfurt’s Goethe University analysed an early March flight from Israel to Germany, which included seven unknowingly infected passengers. Of the passengers who later tested positive for Covid-19, four showed symptoms, two didn’t and one remained asymptomatic. Researchers tested 71 out of 78 passengers who’d been exposed to the confirmed cases, and identified only two possible positive results linked to the flight – though they mention that the passengers could have contracted the virus elsewhere. 

While the findings are hardly conclusive, they suggest that airplanes may not be the Petri dishes consumers see them as. Airlines have made strides in improving their environments since the early March flight in the study. As we’ve mentioned on The Brief, airlines are preventing middle-seat bookings to allow passengers extra space, requiring passengers wear face masks and improving cleaning protocols (see Airlines + Covid-19 for details). Experts add that the majority of on-board HVAC systems recycle air every two to three minutes and remove approximately 99.9% of particles from the air, further lowering transmission risk. Effective positioning of these myriad measures could make customers feel more comfortable about flying again.

Yet, as we explain in Profiling the Future Traveller, the hygiene-conscious habits adopted during the pandemic represent a deeper mindset shift, not a passing phobia. While positive scientific research may help some consumers feel more confident flying, it’s essential that airlines honour pandemic-induced fears surrounding travel to help make all customers feel confident booking flights.