Coronavirus: Is it safe to fly?
- 4 mins read
As a self-professed Avgeek who adores flying (and did so weekly in pre-Covid times), lockdown came as a shock. I’d read daily accounts from friends in the industry saying it had been over 110 days since they’d flown, I couldn’t believe the industry had been grounded so quickly.
Sadly, the passing of my Mum during this period meant I had to do 2 return flights to Ireland to get home to Dublin. However, it did mean I was only 62 days off an aircraft. The first one was via Belfast from LHR. In an eerily quiet Terminal 2, I found socially distant queues in security, no shopping and no priority boarding. There was a strict rear to front, row by row boarding experience in place with Aer Lingus and no on-board service on offer. The wonderful cabin crew, aware of my bereavement, were distraught that they could not offer more than water. There were just 56 passengers in total and it was a very quick flight with no queueing to taxi, no hold patterns, just in and out. My return from Dublin back to LGW with Ryanair a very similar experience.
I flew back 2 weeks ago via Ryanair LGW to DUB, masks mandatory at this stage. Whilst LGW resembled a deserted bus station with only Boots airside open, Dublin Airport was busy on return in Terminal 1. We had 3 security lanes open, all socially distanced of course. La Marquette was back open serving up hot food and even alcohol! There were 160 passengers on my flight back to LGW, who I found to be most respectful of the new processes in place. We all disembarked carefully, helping each other with removing items from overhead lockers. We had a super-efficient crew as always, I could just sense they were thrilled to be flying again doing what they love. There was however, no on-board service again as this is on hold until 1st July when service is to be restored to normal.
All in all, I found both flights to be very smooth and calm passenger experiences. If this is the new normal, well I say let’s all get flying. As I remarked to a friend, I felt safer on board a B737-800 than in the aisles of my local supermarket!
So as Europe and the UK starts to slowly edge back to normality, many are wondering if they will get to travel abroad and enjoy a holiday this year.
After nearly three months of staying completely grounded, easyJet operated its first post-lockdown flight on 15 June (a domestic service to Glasgow). Other airlines are following suit, confident that the introduction of air bridges (bilateral agreements between countries guaranteeing that people can travel between the two without quarantining) will soon make international routes possible again.
Now with Spain recently opening its doors to British holidaymakers, plus Italy open for travellers from the UK and the 26 EU member states, as well as Croatia inviting tourists in since May, one question remains... Is it safe to travel on aeroplanes?
So, is it safe?
Many people’s immediate thoughts would assume that sitting in a confined space for long periods would inevitably spread infections, however the chief engineer at aerospace giant Airbus insists that is not the case.
Jean-Brice Dumont argues that the way modern aircraft are designed means that the air is intrinsically very clean. "Every two to three minutes, mathematically, all the air is renewed," he says. "That means 20 to 30 times per hour, the air around you is completely renewed."
Put simply, air is collected from outside the aircraft, normally through the engine, and mixed with recycled air from the cabin. This air flows downwards from above passengers’ heads and then through vents in the floor, not circulating horizontally through the cabin. The flow of the air itself, he explains, is also designed to minimise infection risks:
"The air flows vertically. It is blown from above your head and evacuated from beneath your feet. That makes the level of propagation of anything in the air quite limited. So, a passenger from row one, for example, cannot contaminate someone in row 20."
Most of the air is discarded overboard through outflow valves although some is recirculated back into the system, however this air is passed through hospital grade HEPA filters which catch 99.9% of particles including bacteria and viruses.
Mr Dumont says: "HEPA filters have standards, and the standards we use in commercial aviation are among the highest standards. They filter out 99.97% of particulates (small particles) of the size of Covid-19."
When compared to offices, for example, where air is refreshed typically every 10-20 minutes, you can see aircraft air is managed very well. It has to be, even without the current global issues.
What can we expect now when taking a flight?
The guidance around social distancing in airports and onboard an aircraft is under constant review and updated regularly, so it’s important to keep up to date with the regulations – but actually the main changes passengers will notice when in the airport and flying relate to social distancing and touching surfaces, just like back on the ground, and the same as experienced in everyday life at the moment.
Quarantine arrangements will also need to be considered when travelling abroad. A traffic light system will see officials placing countries into green, amber and red categories based on the prevalence of coronavirus within each nation’s borders. Quarantine will apply only to nations rated red.
A government spokesperson said: “Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business.”
To keep up to date with the latest travel guidance please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-air-travel-guidance-for-passengers