Do Masks Really Lower Risk of Catching COVID-19 During Flights?

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masks flights risk covid-19

Do Masks Really Lower Risk of Catching COVID-19 During Flights?

As airlines are looking to bring back passengers, safety concerns have been a major topic of discussion. Airlines have implemented several measures to create a safer environment for passengers. There are new cleaning procedures, temperature checks in some instances, empty middle seats until recently at most airlines, and then obviously masks.

Now a new study shows whether wearing a mask on a flight really lowers your chances of getting infected with COVID-19. The new evidence comes mostly from Hong Kong, where health officials have done a great job at testing and tracking all passengers. So they have a good idea which passengers boarded the plane while already infected with the virus and whether they could have infected anyone else on the plane. The study focused mainly on one airline, Emirates.

Emirates introduced its mask requirement back in April. It requires passengers and crew members to wear masks as much as possible, throughout the entire flight. And, flight attendants do a good job at enforcing the rules.

David O. Freedman, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues, looked at all Emirates flights from Dubai to Hong Kong between June 16 and July 5. During those three weeks, there were five flights with seven or more infected passengers on each flight. Yet, none of the other 1,500 to 2,000 passengers were infected. Freedman and his colleague found several other high-risk flights with no transmission, which they say would be impossible without masks.

A case from back in March, before airlines started requiring masks, shows the difference. A Vietnamese businesswoman with a sore throat and a cough boarded a flight in London. Ten hours later, she landed in Hanoi, Vietnam. She infected 15 people on the flight, including more than half of the passengers sitting with her in business class, NPR reports.

In fact, since airlines have made masks mandatory, Freedman says, scientists have not documented one superspreading event on airlines. Even though planes are a closed space with hundreds of people, they have excellent air ventilation and filtration systems. These systems remove coronavirus particles from the air about every six minutes, the U.S. Transportation Command reported last Thursday. You can only breathe the virus in if the particles pass by you before going through that ventilation system. That only happens if you’re sitting close to the person who’s sick. The risk is lower when that person wears a mask as much as possible.

Based in NYC. Points/miles enthusiast for years and actively writing about it for the last two years at Danny the Deal Guru. I'm always looking out for deals. Making a few bucks is always nice, but the traveling is by far the best part of this business.

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  1. Did they test the plane’s filters to actually see if corona DNA is on there? Just so we get an idea of how many people actually got corona but aren’t aware.
    Not sure if that’s feasible though, probably very small trace anyways.

  2. Reassuring and it’s consistent with studies from before COVID. Multiple studies showing no masked passengers getting infected for other airborne illnesses such as the flu. Our last flight was LAX -> ICN (South Korea) which we did quite gladly masked the entire way back in March. It was perfectly fine, I have never really understood why people are so squeamish about wearing a mask. However we did briefly remove the masks to eat a little bit and drink water (back then the big fear was surface contamination so we only ate food we’d brought with us.) Going on a long flight with our young son might still give us a little pause because of those brief maskless breaks… what if someone else infected next to us eats at the same time? For that reason I think we’d still avoid long flights especially now with infection rates spiking again in the US and Europe, if we were still there, but it’s reassuring masks work well on airplanes. Gives me more calm about our planned short flight to Jeju Island next month.

  3. And not to mention it feels great to have your breathing restricted also to go along with the misery of being in airports and flying!

  4. I just got back from a work trip to Europe and they are super enforcing mask rules. Same as on flights from USA to Europe. Brutal wearing a mask non-stop so long.

    Interesting while I was flying in Switzerland on Swiss Air, they even said on the loud speaker they recommend/prefer you not to turn on the air conditioning for safety.

    • That is interesting – I would think the opposite on the air conditioning because it increases airflow.

  5. Is it possible for passengers to drop their guard when they are in the airplane toilets hence catching the virus while using the toilets.
    Wearing mask is still a good practice.

  6. Ummmm why would you even post an article like this??? If masks didn’t work why would we as healthcare providers wear them daily???? Ask yourself that riddle.

    • Because there were actual scientific studies done and we thought people would find it interesting to see the results. Seems like that riddle is solved!


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