Harvard study: Air travel presents lower COVID-19 risk than shopping and dining out

A new gate-to-gate study by scientists from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is the most comprehensive research to date to conclude that the layered approach U.S. airlines, including Delta, have taken to protect customers and employees from COVID-19 means the risk of exposure during air travel is very low.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed a single case of COVID-19 transmission on a U.S. airplane.

“The risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard aircraft [is] below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out,” the Harvard researchers concluded. “Implementing these layered risk mitigation strategies…requires passenger and airline compliance [but] will help to ensure that air travel is as safe or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times.”

The report concludes that the universal use of face masks, diligent cleaning protocols and advanced ventilation and filtration systems offer significant protection against COVID-19, lowering the risk of transmission on an aircraft to minimal levels. 

Wearing of face masks by passengers and crew is essential

The study determined that the use of face masks was “the most essential part of a comprehensive set of measures to reduce COVID-19 during air travel.”

Deep cleaning of high-touch aircraft surfaces disinfects, removes contamination

The report’s findings also support Delta’s extensive cleaning practices, including our industry-leading commitment to electrostatic spraying of high-touch surfaces using high-grade disinfectant between flights on a daily basis.

Ventilation systems on passenger aircraft are highly effective at refreshing, filtering air

Harvard’s research team noted the “highly effective ventilation systems” on aircraft, which mitigate disease exposure by rapid and continuous filtering and exchange of cabin air.

Layered risk-mitigation will ensure air travel remains as safe or safer than other routine activities

The study concluded it takes a “combination of layered infection control measures” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

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