With global travel opening new roads for outbreaks, new research has revealed how viruses can spread onboard an aircraft and which passengers are likely to catch an infection.
With most countries cutting flights to and from high-risk countries or even closing their borders amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital to keep in mind what scientists already know about similar viruses, and how they spread onboard an airplane.
Anyone who has made it a habit to sneeze into their arm may already know about how respiratory illnesses spread. Infection occurs when one comes into contact with droplets of saliva, mucus, or other bodily fluids from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. Coronaviruses last on various surfaces for around four to nine days, which is longer than other illnesses.
The FlyHealthy Research Team observed the behaviors of passengers and crew on 10 transcontinental US flights to estimate how many close encounters might allow for virus transmission. The passengers who were least likely to get up were in window seats: only 43 percent moved around as opposed to 80 percent of those in aisle seats. Window seat passengers also had far fewer close encounters in comparison to others at an estimated 12 contacts, with middle seats at 58 and aisle seats at 64.
Based on this research, sitting in a window seat may put you less at risk of coming into contact with an infected person. However, the study also revealed that since passengers will be moving quickly along the aisle, passengers on those seats may have quite a low probability of catching any virus from a particular passenger.
The study also showed that ill flight crew members need to avoid flying at all costs as they are more likely to have more frequent, longer, and closer encounters, with a probability of infecting at least four passengers.
With that in mind, observing proper hygiene when onboard an aircraft is still the best practice: avoiding contact with coughing or sneezing passengers, washing hands with soap, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching any surface.