The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a first-phase report that found, through a layered approach to risk mitigation, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft.

The study, conducted by the school’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, found that the usage of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems on aircraft removes over 99% of the particles containing the virus from the cabin air.

The low rate of transmission on aircraft, the study finds, is lower than that of other common settings such as grocery stores or indoor restaurants.

The report stresses that other layers of safety measures must be present, including:

  • universal wearing of face masks by passengers and crew throughout the journey;
  • distancing protocols and provision of strong ventilation during boarding and deplaning;
  • disinfection of high-touch aircraft surfaces to remove contamination and;
  • passenger attestations that they do not have COVID-19 related symptoms and are committed to adhering to airline mask policy.

The findings of the report are similar to that of a recent U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) study, which revealed that the risk of COVID-19 transmission on board a plane is “extremely unlikely” if masks are worn. Noteworthy in the DOD study is the fact that it does not matter where passengers sit or how crowded the plane is—as long as masks are worn, the risk of transmission remains low.

As we approach the holiday travel season, a wealth of scientific evidence that points to the low risk of inflight COVID-19 transmission can be hugely beneficial in restoring consumer confidence in the ability to travel safely.  

However, it must be underscored that a safe travel experience is a shared responsibility and requires everyone to do their part. U.S. Travel has long advocated for the universal embrace of healthy travel practices such as wearing masks, frequent hand washing and staying home if feeling sick. We recently updated our Travel Confidently toolkit, which includes a suite of resources centered around the theme that a healthy and safe travel experience is a shared responsibility.

U.S. Travel is encouraged by the findings of this independent study and looks forward to the next phase of this report.