After months of being stuck at home under lockdown, travel restrictions are slowly easing and borders are reopening. And while airlines aren’t operating at pre-Covid 19 levels yet, flight routes and passenger numbers are rising rapidly - and the UK government have just announced we'll be able to travel to 59 countries quarantine-free.
But the big question we all want to know before jetting off again: is it actually safe to fly?
What the scientists say
If you’re convinced that sitting on a plane breathing in the same air as 100 other people isn’t a great idea, you might be interested to hear from Jean-Brice Dumont, chief engineer at Airbus which designs and manufactures planes, who recently told the BBC that air on flights is actually remarkably clean.
"Every two to three minutes, all the air is renewed," he says. "That means 20 to 30 times per hour, the air around you is completely new.” What’s more, it’s filtered. "The standards we use in commercial aviation are among the highest. They filter out 99.97% of particulates (small particles) of the size of Covid-19."
Even the flow of the air is designed to minimise infection risks. "The air flows vertically. It is blown from above your head and evacuated from beneath your feet. So a passenger from row one, for example, cannot contaminate someone in row 20."
Unfortunately, Dr Julian Tang, consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, believes it’s not the filtration that’s the problem, but rather close contact with lots of other people that causes the danger.
Apparently while filters do work, they can't capture all Covid-19 droplets before you might breathe them in.
"Filtration only works on mass airflows, most of the transmission during a plane journey will be those short-range, face-to-face conversations. Close range aerosol transmission is what you have to be worried about on a plane, train or a bus - this is the biggest risk.”
So, in order to slow the transmission of germs, you can say goodbye to friendly chats with air stewards and Dave from Wigan who's sat next door.
What the airlines say
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has been very vocal about getting passengers back in the air, insisting that by following advice from the European Centre for Disease Control and European Safety Authority, it’s safe to get his fleet of planes running again.
Covid-19 prevention measures on Ryanair include face masks to be worn by all passengers and crew, random temperature checks, hand sanitiser and asking permission to use onboard toilets (rather than queuing in the aisles).
Similarly, easyJet boss John Lundgren has said passengers and crew must wear masks, that planes will regularly be deep-cleaned and that he would feel “100% safe” flying on a full plane.
But they would say that wouldn’t they?
What passengers say
Despite all the furore around flights recommencing, passengers returning to the skies seem to be adapting well.
Georgia Barnett, a women’s empowerment coach, flew from Luton to Tel Aviv on June 29 with Wizzair after being in lockdown with her family for four months in England. She told Cosmopolitan, "The pre-boarding experience at Luton was easy as the flight was only at half capacity - there was hardly anyone queuing to check in bags and staff made sure we stayed apart and respected social distancing."
Barnett says the airport was eerie as most restaurants and shops were shut with barriers around them, including Duty Free and Starbucks. “Only Boots and WHSmith were open, it was quite surreal.”
“At the gate, people were respectful of social distancing, we stood apart from each other while queuing for the plane. Everyone wore a mask, including all the airport staff.
“On board, there was an empty seat between me and another passenger so I felt safe, however I didn’t feel so safe in the aisles and didn’t want to use the bathroom. The staff were great and the air stewards made sure everyone was wearing their mask at all times.
“Flying for five hours in a mask was uncomfortable, but I felt nervous without it.”
Jean Arnas, video content producer for The Points Guy UK flew to Berlin from Heathrow in June and felt totally safe. He talked us through the experience:
"Flying British Airways to Berlin felt safe and easy. All stores at Heathrow were closed, with the exception of WHSmith and Boots - both had hand sanitisers at the entrance though, 2m distancing marks on the floor and reduced capacity of shoppers inside.
“The boarding process was definitely slower than usual, starting from the last few rows and moving all the way to the front. That process excluded any business class and elite status holding passengers who were the last to board.
“Onboard, the crew were wore masks at all times, the seats and cabin felt very clean and I was given snacks and drinks. The crew were particularly friendly on that flight, it felt really nice to be there.”
Sounds quite encouraging, tbh.
Cosmopolitan UK's August issue is out now and available for purchase online and via Readly. You can also SUBSCRIBE HERE or read on Apple News+. Find our podcast 'All The Way With...' on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and the Acast app.
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