Five facts about the risk of a coronavirus infection during your flight
Many people are currently concerned about the safety of travelling. How big is the risk of getting a coronavirus infection while flying if another person with a coronavirus infection is on the same flight?
“Getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection during a flight is possible but highly unlikely,” tells Finnair’s Medical Director Kimmo Ketola. “During 2020, there were fewer than 50 SARS-CoV-2 infections caught onboard a plane. At the same time, there were 1.2 billion air travellers globally. So even if the real number of cases was tenfold, the probability of contracting Covid-19 remains extremely small.
According to Ketola, there are many reasons for the low number of infections. They are related to passenger behaviour, aircraft ventilation and hygiene measures.
Moreover, authorities in many countries currently require travellers to have a negative Covid test result before travelling, which further reduces the risk of getting infected during the flight. In Finland, the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare has advised airlines to require a negative test result from travellers arriving in Finland, and Finnair follows this recommendation.
1. Finnair does not accept passengers with symptoms of a coronavirus infection onboard.
Our ground crew pays close attention to possible symptoms at the departure gate. Typically, people tend to cancel or reschedule their flight if they are feeling ill or unwell. Finnair offers flexibility for changing travel dates for bookings that are made between 1 April 2020 and 31 August.
2. HEPA filters remove 99.79% of all microbes in cabin air.
Fresh air is supplied from the overhead stowage compartment level and extracted at floor level, which means that there is no airflow forward or rearward along the cabin. The cabin air changes every 2 to 3 minutes. The particles in a cough or sneeze are removed from the cabin air within a few minutes.
A recent American study found that aerosol particles released in a cough are reduced by 99.99% before they enter a nearby passengers' respiratory zone. The infection risk is the biggest for passengers sitting next to an infected passenger, although the risk is still minimal due to the facts stated before.
3. Social distancing is also important during the flight.
Finnair has made several changes to its inflight service, which aim to reduce the contacts between cabin crew and customers, as well as unnecessary movement in the cabin. The service is limited, and boarding is organised row by row so that close contacts with other passengers can be minimal.
When travelling as a family, it’s advisable to sit next to each other and travel in your own “bubble”, meaning staying with the same group of people.
According to studies, having only one carry-on baggage will reduce close contacts by about 2/3 during boarding. Therefore, it’s recommended to travel light and have as few items as possible during the pandemic.
4. The hygiene level has been raised further from an already high standard.
Even though the risk of getting an infection from a surface is low, the risk can still be reduced further by careful cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning of the aircraft has been enhanced, and Finnair also offers its customers surface wipes so everyone can wipe armrests and tables. Good hand hygiene during the flight reduces infections as well.
5. The inflight infection risk can be reduced further by wearing a mask.
Surgical or FFP classified masks give the best protection. Finnair requires all passengers older than 7 to wear a mask from boarding until disembarkation. The mask can be taken out for a moment to eat but eating shouldn’t be prolonged. Finnair accepts self-made fabric masks, surgical masks or FFP masks without valves (FFP2, FFP3, N95 or equivalent standards).