The risk of contracting COVID-19 during air travel is low according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association
(Pombal, JAMA 2020
) authored by medical experts from the aviation industry. The reason given is that modern airplanes circulate a mix of fresh air and air recycled through HEPA filters
and the air flow comes down from above and exits through outlets in the floor (see diagram
This does not mean that there is no risk when flying and, regardless of aircraft ventilation, your risk is certainly higher should an infectious person be seated near or next to you, and airlines differ in their policies regarding filling middle seats. In addition, although face masks are required to be worn by passengers and crew aboard all airlines, this is not being consistently enforced.
However, as noted in the article, there are steps you can take to help you stay safe and protect others:
- Don't travel if you feel unwell
- Limit carry-on baggage
- Wear a mask (an N95 respirator, if you have one, will protect you more than a face mask)
- Point the overhead air nozzle straight at your head and keep it on full
- Stay seated if possible
- Follow crew instructions
- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your face
The use of a face shield
is not listed among the suggested steps, but having one available to wear would seem prudent should a passenger be seated to your left or right. Limiting conversation with others would also seem wise.