A couple of weeks ago we were arguing about how safe it is to fly these days. Today, we get a professional assessment from Joseph Allen, a Harvard professor of exposure assessment science. I didn’t know there was any such academic field to be a professor of, but it just goes to show you. Anyway, what does he have to say?
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: Airplanes are certainly vectors of disease, efficiently transporting infectious people around countries and the globe. This is obviously critical in terms of outbreak control for covid-19. But the fact that airplanes help spread disease across geographies does not mean that you are necessarily at risk during flight. There are fairly simple things you can do, if you do need to travel, to reduce the odds of getting sick.
Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there have only been a handful of documented disease outbreaks attributable to airplanes in the past 40 years. If planes made you sick, we would expect to see millions of people sick every year attributable to flights. We haven’t seen it because it’s just not happening.
Allen does have some advice about how to make air travel even safer, and he favors manadatory mask wearing. That said, the actual risk of catching COVID-19 from sitting in an airplane for a few hours is quite low.