Airplanes and COVID-19 – Preventing the Spread of Germs

Each year, billions of passengers take flights to locations across the globe. The aviation industry is a critical component of the worldwide economy, moving people, goods and employing millions of workers. The current pandemic has raised concerns about airplanes and COVID-19 and how to protect passengers and crew.

With so many people crowded together tightly in airports and airplanes, some travelers and workers have indoor environmental quality (IEQ) concerns and worry about the spread of airborne and surface germs when traveling. This became an even greater issue in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spread across the globe and dramatically curtailed air travel.

Of particular concern is person-to-person spread of infectious diseases through respiratory droplets in the air or from touching contaminated surfaces or objects, as these are two of the primary ways germs are spread in an airplane or any built environment.

Regarding air quality issues, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that potential cabin air hazards may include:
• Ventilation hazards, including carbon monoxide, ozone and carbon dioxide levels
• Transmission of communicable diseases from sick passengers
• Cabin altitude and pressurization changes
• Air contamination events, when cabin air becomes contaminated with breakdown products from heated engine oil or hydraulic fluid

With communicable diseases, NIOSH states that some of the ways they can be spread on a plane include:
• Direct contact with a sick person
• Breathing in airborne viruses and bacteria
• Contact with blood and other body fluids
• Contact with a contaminated surface or object

Over the years, there have also been studies that have tested surfaces in airplanes for microorganisms such as E. coli, MRSA and mold. These have raised concerns and highlighted the importance of thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, as well as the role hand washing and personal hygiene play in protecting people. Another issue is pesticides, NIOSH reports that some countries require that in-bound flights be treated with pesticides to prevent the spread of insects, or diseases carried by insects, like malaria or Zika.

These are just a few of the many indoor environmental quality issues that can impact air travel for passengers and airline employees. To learn more about this or other environmental, health or safety issues, please contact us.