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The risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) during air travel is lower than from an office building, classroom, supermarket, or commuter train.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is emitted when someone talks, coughs, sneezes, or sings, mainly in droplets that can be propelled a short distance, and sometimes in smaller aerosol particles that can remain suspended and travel further. Another person can be infected if these particles reach their mouth or nose, directly or via hands. Transmission via surface contact is also important in some cases.
Air enters the cabin from overhead inlets and flows downwards toward floor-level outlets. Air enters and leaves the cabin at the same seat row or nearby rows. There is relatively little airflow forward and backward between rows, making it less likely to spread respiratory particles between rows.
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"We estimate the mortality risks caused by Covid-19 infections contracted on airplanes, taking into account that infected passengers can in turn infect others. The point estimates—which use 2019 data about the percentage of seats actually occupied on US flights--range from one death per 400,000
Pombal R, Hosegood I, Powell D. Risk of COVID-19 During Air Travel. JAMA. 2020;324(17):1798. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19108
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