New Studies Say Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Flights: Why It Doesn’t Change Anything

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Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Flights

New Study Says Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Flights

Forbes published a recent article with quite the dystopian headline, Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Airline Flights, Per Two New Studies.  When I first saw the headline I thought, wow this is terrible news.  And with the way our society is these days many other people thought the same thing.  But, unlike a lot of society, I actually read the article. I didn’t formulate my thoughts and beliefs based solely on the headline. There are two new studies that say Covid-19 can spread on long flights but they should come with a huge caveat.

Details on the Study

Both studies will reportedly be featured in November 2020 edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The first study is from a 10 hour flight from London to Hanoi on March 2, 2020 on Vietnam Airlines.  The 217 passengers aboard the flight were quarantined and tested vigorously over the next few weeks.  They did contact tracing and tried to figure out which passengers came in close contact with others etc. When it was all said and done 16 people became infected with Covid-19.  Twelve of the infected passengers sat in business class together.

Here is a quote on the findings from the Forbes article:

“We conclude that the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size, even in business class–like settings with spacious seating arrangements well beyond the established distance used to define close contact on airplanes,” concluded the research team. “As long as COVID-19 presents a global pandemic threat in the absence of a good point-of-care test, better on-board infection prevention measures and arrival screening procedures are needed to make flying safe.”

The second study involves a 15 hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong on March 9, 2020.  Four people ended up testing positive after the flight.  A married couple and two flight attendants that serviced them.  All were asymptomatic during the flight.

Here is a quote on the findings from the Forbes article:

“Given the case histories and sequencing results, the most likely sequence of events is that one or both of passengers A and B contracted SARS-CoV-2 in North America and transmitted the virus to flight attendants C and D during the flight. The only location where all four persons were in close proximity for an extended period was inside the airplane,” concluded the scientists. “Our results strongly suggest in-flight transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Our results demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted on airplanes. To prevent transmission of the virus during travel, infection control measures must continue.”

Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Flights

Why This Doesn’t Change Anything For Me

I fear so many people will read the headline to the Forbes article, mentally digest that flying isn’t safe, and move on with their life.  Their decision making process will be based off a headline that doesn’t tell the full story.

The fact that these studies were done in March before anyone knew much about the virus, before any protocols were in place and before masks were mandated completely changes what can be taken from the results. At least in my opinion. The Forbes writer touches on this briefly at the end of the article but doesn’t give it the fleshed out thinking it deserves.

What do these studies actually say? If you are in close contact with someone who is infected, without any precautions, then you can also become infected.  No duh! The sky is blue, water is wet, and so on and so on.  This study reaffirms what we have known for months.  But it is packaged in a way that will be dangerously misleading for some.

In the first study the passenger with symptoms most likely would have never tried to board the flight knowing what we know now.  Even if they did try to board they would have been stopped by temperature scans etc. before boarding the plane.  In the second study the married couple and the flight attendants would have masks on now. That simple fact would have greatly reduced the chances of transmission. My point is that I can not see a scenario where things play out today like they did back in March.  That doesn’t include the new procedures airlines are doing to sterilize planes.

Final Thoughts

Can Covid-19 spread on long flights? Sure it can.  It can spread anywhere if precautions are not properly taken.  Would the same thing that happened in March, before any protocols were in place and people knew what was going on, happen again? I would have to say that is a lot less likely.  Hopefully you can see that after reading the article and not taking the headline as gospel.  You can only fit so much info in a title and that is why it is important to read the article before coming to any conclusions.

Does flying come with risk? Sure. I think any time you leave the house you are taking on some risk.  But with the mandated masks, sterilization procedures and other protocols in place I think it is as safe, or safer, than a lot of things we do in normal life.  These two studies haven’t given me any information that changes that. They really should have come with a Captain Obvious ad in the middle.

Peace Out GIF by Captain Obvious - Find & Share on GIPHY

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. “were required to declare any COVID-19 symptoms”

    Yeah, that’s effective. I’m sure the September 11 terrorists also declared that they packed their own bags and weren’t carrying anything on the forbidden list.

    • “At the time of flight VN54 arrival, all passengers from COVID-19–infected areas, including the United Kingdom, had their body temperature screened by thermal imaging and were required to declare any COVID-19 symptoms.”

      • It’s worth noting that neither study factors in the role of face masks. Back in March, passengers from Covid-19–infected areas received body temperature screening and were required to self-declare Covid-19 symptoms, but face masks were not mandatory on airplanes or at airports.

        This is actually what was in the Forbes article. It doesn’t say whether or not the passengers for the flight received the scan just that Covid-19 infected areas were doing scans. I am guessing you pulled that from another article to try to make a point you couldn’t with the Forbes article??

        • I pulled it from the actual study, which is linked in the Forbes article. Since you were making such a big deal about reading beyond the headline. So, going to correct your own story?

  2. Good pickup. Not pointless in the least. Those of us treating and advising patients need all the help we can get given the Trump CDC. Sad that I need to trust Mark as much as the CDC/HHS/1600 Penn when advising patients who “must” travel. I generally advise disinfectant, UV light, and hydroxychloroquine an hour before the flight and skip the mask. Kidding- for those who still think it is a hoax. I would strongly advise against holiday travel this year (which is of course about way more than what happens once strapped in your seat). We are not locked down like the Southern Hemisphere was during their cold and flu season, and cannot hope for as light a season as they had.

  3. Anyone that is that worried about contracting Covid on a long flight should re-assess their risk appetite. Most flying is for leisure right now so is it worth your life to go on vacation? You are risking your life any time you leave the house but some situations are more dangerous than others. In addition contact tracing is far from perfect. Nothing says that the folks on these flights didn’t contract it at the airport, subway, store, etc. before they ever boarded those flights. If you want to get on a plane do so but don’t expect a 20 cent cheaply made mast to protect your life completely. Personally I’m willing to fly without masks. I don’t view it much differently than all the other flying I’ve done during flu seasons or with sick people. Also sick people do elect to fly even when they know they are sick. They want to go home or make that business meeting, etc.

    • It would be wiser for you to view it as different. This particular coronavirus is significantly more contagious than influenza, and affects us in ways for lengths of time we are just learning to recognize. Do a search for long hauler syndrome. It’s appalling.

  4. Fake news. I can assure you that neither of these events actually happened, because this whole virus thing is nothing but an attempt to control the populace. Seriously. Do you know anyone who has actually been infected?

    • “this whole virus thing is nothing but an attempt to control the populace”

      Obviously this poster is either naive or just trying to be offensive. Either way, they are not very closely involved in the aviation industry. I personally know of a half dozen FAs who have been infected, with outcomes ranging from no symptoms to coma/ventilator (fortunately, now recovering). I’m sure that they were all faking it just to fool Tom.

    • I agree 100% it, along with the ridiculous mask mandate is in place to remind everyone,every moment of every day to live their lives in fear , I am so freaking sick and tired of hearing this many people were infected ,or that many people contacted covid…. my question is this, was anyone sick?? did any of them show symptoms, that is NEVER reported ,because when you actually found out that the overwhelming majority of those infected were not even sick, the scamdemic would go away.

      • Dean – calling a pandemic fake because you choose to ignore all science doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t help anyone. People are dying. Let’s care about them and prevent further deaths together.

    • Yep, I know multiple people who have it, I know medical professionals I work in this field, and I know people on the front lines fighting the virus & recording data on it.
      If you think it’s fake, you are choosing to believe so in the face of all evidence.

    • Yes. And two who died from it. Only fools believe the nonsense you are spouting as fact.

      I don’t anyone who’s had pancreatic cancer. But I have no doubt that it’s what killed RBG.

  5. March 9th we weren’t even required to wear mask here in the U.S.

    No knock to you Mark but these articles are pointless. People have already made up their mind of what is safe and not safe and that’s okay.

    Selfishly, I hope they continue to fear it because flying is so much easier AND cheaper without all the fear mongers onboard.

    • Agreed most have made up their mind one way or another for sure but I write it for people on the fence that see that headline and it tips them one way or the other.

  6. A better headline might have been “Studies Show That Maskless Air Travel Can Lead To COVID-19 Infections”.

      • so what if some one is infected strengthening the immune system to combat the microbe and kill it vitamin D3 10,000 IU and zinc 20mg + vitamin C 5 grams daily is a very good health insurance policy if immune compromised which can equate to 44 % of the USA population recommend if infected Hydroxychloroquine, 200 mg with zinc 20mg + azitrhomycin daily for 5days along with vitamin C 5grams prefer liposomal a face mask will not prevent infection we cannot allow fear and politicians to control our lives and limit our freedom

    • A better headline than that should read ” wearing a mask infects you with brainless government fear based control and a lemming mentality,better to stay home and live the rest of your days hiding behind your washing machine with a mask on, cowering in fear.


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