Study: Odds of Catching COVID-19 From Flying 1-in-27 Million

Study: Odds of Catching COVID-19 From Flying 1-in-27 Million

Joe Cortez

A new study from the International Air Transport Association suggests the actual odds of contracting COVID-19 aboard an aircraft is significantly low. With 44 documented cases of potential novel Coronavirus infections compared to 1.2 billion flyers throughout 2020, the data suggests the odds of actually contracting an infection is significantly smaller than first believed.

Using factual data from actual airline operations throughout the year, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) now suggests the actual odds of contracting COVID- 19 are significantly smaller than first believed. When face coverings and HEPA filtration is used, the chances of getting an infection could be as small as one-in-27 million.

IATA Study Based on 2020 Data, Aligned with Peer-Reviewed Study

To come up with the numbers, the IATA looked at actual flight operations in 2020, studies from the three major aircraft manufacturers, and a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine. At the time of their study, an estimated 1.2 billion travelers had flown aboard a commercial flight across the world. Of them, only 44 cases of COVID-19 were directly traced to being on a flight. Based on those numbers, the study reached the conclusion of the extremely low odds.

“We recognize that this may be an underestimate but even if 90% of the cases were un-reported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travelers. We think these figures are extremely reassuring,”: Dr. David Powell, medical advisor to IATA, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread.”

These findings were echoed through independent studies conducted by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer. The Airbus study found that compared to an indoor space, an aircraft cabin was a much safer environment due to constant air recycling and mandated face coverings. The findings from similar studies and setups by Boeing and Embraer confirmed that aircraft may be safer than other indoor facilities.

Finally, the peer-reviewed study published by the Journal of Travel Medicine suggests that through a review of known COVID-19 cases caught from air travel, it is significantly reduced compared to cases on other means of travel. However, the researchers note that because the opportunity to complete rigorous studies is very limited, much more research is required to offer definitive evidence on the spread of COVID-19.

New Studies Reduce Overall Risk of COVID-19 Cases

The latest evidence from IATA offers the most optimism for airlines and flyers, as previous studies suggested that the odds of contracting may be higher. A preliminary model from a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggested flyers could have a one-in-4,300 chance of contracting COVID-19 from a flight, while the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that wearing a face covering while aboard an aircraft could reduce the danger further.