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A 2020 STUDY conducted for the Department of Defense adds credence to the growing belief that airline passengers are not likely to contract COVID-19 when flying.

The study found the risk of aerosol dispersion was reduced 99.7 percent thanks to high air exchange rates, HEPA-filtered recirculation and downward ventilation found on modern jets.


Investigators looked at the impact of an infected passenger on those seated nearby in the cabins of Boeing 767s and 777s. Those two aircraft types are wide-bodies typically used for long-haul flights where a virus could be expected to spread more easily.

To test the exposure risk for passengers sitting near an infected person, researchers released fluorescent tracer aerosols representing the droplets released by exhaling or coughing and looked at the impact on multiple “breathing zones” throughout the aircraft. More than 11,500 breathing zone seat measurements were taken with releases from 46 different seats.

“The reality is those tests are indicative of what happens on every airplane. An aircraft is just a remarkably safe environment,” says United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

The study’s team included members from United, Boeing, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, National Strategic Research Institute and other research firms. It was prepared for the U.S. Transportation Command and the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.

The study reinforces the message that airlines have been trying to convey that HEPA filters and high turnover rates of airflow in passenger cabins reduce viral exposure. In fact, the study found that contamination in the aircraft was less than what is found in private residences.

With the airflow from ceiling to floor, “There is no place indoors that it is anywhere close to that” when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus, Kirby says. He urged other airlines to emulate United’s policy of making sure power units operate in a way that allows passengers to take advantage of aircraft ventilation systems while still at the gate.

Kirby also urged passengers to make sure that their overhead vents are fully open during their flights to maximize air circulation.

On most planes, the air exchange rate is approximately every three minutes, and 75 percent comes from outside the plane, meaning that only 25 percent of cabin air is recirculated.

“The 767 and 777 both removed particulate 15 times faster than a home ... and five to six times faster than recommended design specifications for modern hospital operating or patient isolation rooms,” according to the study.

Tests were conducted by placing instruments that can measure particles in proximity to a simulated sick passenger. The study took masks into consideration, factoring that passengers might be wearing the type of surgical masks handed out by airlines.

Bookings dropped sharply after COVID-19 started infecting millions around the world in the belief that spending hours in cabins in close proximity to other passengers could easily spread the virus.

Carriers have tried to allay passengers’ concerns and protect aircrew members’ health by requiring masks, mandating social distancing and instituting other precautions.

Study finds air on planes safer than in homes or operating rooms


TIP: During air travel, keep the vents above your seat open at all times to improve ventilation.

Revenge Road Trip

How frustration led me on the trip of a lifetime


Last winter, after receiving the last of three canceled vacation notices, I closed my laptop gently and sat down to cry. While all of my canceled trip notifications pack a punch, this one — our anniversary trip to see the northern lights — hurt the most. That night, my tears were symbolic. They might as well have been waving little white flags as they flowed down my cheeks. It was time to admit defeat and let 2020 take its victory lap. I gathered my travel books into a stack and stared longingly at the book on top, which gave me an idea. Who said I had to resign myself to another year of trashed travel plans?


Just because I couldn’t celebrate my anniversary in Iceland didn’t mean I couldn’t find another way to take back my stargazing travel plans. Since international travel was off the table, I decided I needed to find an epic destination close to home. Phoenix isn’t exactly a dark-skies destination. At night, the city glows well into the desert beyond the outskirts of the valley. I needed some inspiration, so I grabbed my travel book and flipped through the pages until I landed on a photo of the stars over the Grand Canyon. Bingo. Now, all I needed was a place to stay where we could see the stars. I’m a luxury hotel kind of girl, so a tent was out of the question. I did a quick web search to see if any accommodations would keep us comfortable and warm but still give us a good view of the sky.


At first, when my search displayed a picture of an RV with a stargazer window, I dismissed the idea. But, something pulled me back to that image. I liked the idea of sleeping in a cozy trailer, and I loved the concept of planning something paradoxical — a revenge road trip! I had no clue how to book an RV. A hotel room? Sure. An Airbnb? Yep. I typed in Airbnb of RVs in Phoenix, and within seconds, RVezy, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, popped up, and the cutest campers filled my screen. Could it really be that EZY?


When I told my husband I wanted to rent an RV and take a revenge road trip, he laughed at me. “We know nothing about RVs, so what makes you think you can empty an RV toilet?” He may have been right, but I was going to prove him wrong. That night, we sat down together and booked a travel trailer with a bed, indoor kitchen, wet bath, and of course, a stargazer window. Since this trip was my idea, I wanted to do everything myself. It turns out that I could not only empty the RV toilet, but I could also put up the awning, fill the onboard water, and back into our campsite. Between the owner’s instructions and my new obsession with RV-themed YouTube videos, I felt like a pro. All my husband had to do was lie back at night and watch the stars.


I’m not sure why we’d never considered renting an RV before. Our stargazing trip to the Grand Canyon, and later the Petrified Forest, was so memorable that we can’t wait to rent another RV and explore the southern part of the state. And our newbie RVer fears? Put to rest after we completed the RVezy rental checklist and owner-renter test drive. We didn’t leave the driveway until we were confident and ready to roll.


It took a pandemic for me to realize that travel can be just as fun in my own backyard. I went into the trip hoping to justify my year of lost travel with something bigger and better. In the end, my revenge road trip wasn’t what I expected. It was hard to seek redemption when I just needed simplicity. I didn’t exactly get revenge. I got something better back in return — a renewed excitement for my future of travel.

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