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With the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that large droplets from coughing threaten public indoor spaces, where does safety fall for air travel? Many of the surfaces that passengers and flight attendants come into contact regularly include armrests, tray tables, luggage compartments, and seats. If these droplets are COVID-19 positive, there is a risk for surrounding crew members and passengers.
On a positive note, most aircraft cabins already have ventilation systems in place; every four minutes, the air on board is filtered and cleaned.
Tests prove that COVID-19 droplets can be airborne for several minutes to several hours just from coughing and or sneezing. Small droplets can stay in the cabin for about four minutes before the air is filtered with quality aircraft ventilation systems. On the other hand, this filtration system does not solve all possible contamination scenarios. The small droplets can travel to nearby passengers seated in the same row, exposing them to the virus.
Other precautions that can reduce the risk of transmission are wearing a mask and seat spacing. N95 respirators are capable of filtering out 90% of air-borne droplets. After further research, N95s cannot guarantee 100% effectiveness since they are not a perfect fit for all human faces. While traveling in the air, it is recommended that if you are sitting next to another passenger wearing an N95 may be crucial. Surgical masks rank 50-80% effective indeed filter out droplets, but as they do not seal as tight as other masks, upgrading to an N95 may be beneficial to giving passengers peace of mind, especially in scenarios of closer than desired seating.
It is always recommended to wear a mask in the airport, from entering to exiting and maintaining the two metres (six ft) whenever travelers can. Passengers can also disinfect the surfaces that they may encounter using disinfectant wipes. Also, physical distancing while eating or staggered eating times may be considered to avoid eating with others while everyone has their mask down.
When choosing to book with an airline, some factors may give you the confidence to book with them. Keep an eye out for blocking middle seats, handing out medical masks, and disinfection protocols.