What is the risk of coronavirus infection on plane?

The risk of coronavirus infection on plane in the last few months seems to be the huge concern of airlines, but also of many travel enthusiasts. How is it possible to successfully combine the economic factor with the health factor? Will social distance during the flight be introduced by law? This questions were not asked only by travel lovers, but also the International Air Transport Association (IATA). To avoid enacting a law on social distance in plane, IATA recently published various studies stating a low risk of coronavirus infection, for both passengers and crew.

IATA supports the use of protective masks in air transport, as well as other measures implemented by most airlines. But they are very critical regarding the statements that point to the need of maintaining social distance, which would oblige airlines to have a large number of empty seats on the flight. Having the middle seat empty, would enable a separation of just half a meter while the distance measures recommended by the authorities are one to two meters. Among other things, low-cost companies have small margins and need at least 90% occupancy to be profitable. Undoubtedly, such a legal measure in aircraft, would deal a major financial blow to already “shaken” airlines.


Research results

An informal IATA study, including 18 major airlines, from January to March, identified only three suspected coronavirus infections among passengers during the flight. There should be added four more cases of pilot infection, although this transmission could have occurred before or after the flight, not exclusively during the flight. It is important to note that in the latter there was no transmission of the infection between the passengers and the crew.

Between January and March, IATA also monitored 1,100 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after the flight (it is important to note that this does not mean that they were not positive before the flight). After the trip, there were no secondary infections among more than 100,000 passengers in that same group of flights that includes the aforementioned 1,100 passengers. Only two possible positive cases were found, but among the crew members.

According to studies, there are several reasons why the transmission of coronavirus infection on plane is lower during the flight than in other forms of collective transport:

  • Passengers on a plane look straight ahead most of the time, and face-to-face interactions are relatively limited.
  • According to position, the seats are a kind of obstacle to the possible frontal spread of the virus.
  • The flow of air coming from the ceiling greatly reduces the possibility of virus transmission in the cabin, either forward or backward.
  • The constant air flow is strong and that is why it does not lead to droplet expansion in the same way as is the case inside other closed spaces.
  • Today’s (HEPA) particle filters are very effective and purify the air in the cabin just as they do in hospital operating rooms.


The survey was conducted over eight consecutive days in August in collaboration with United Airlines on Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft.

The researchers used fluorescent sensors and devices to measure the volume of an infectious substance in the air emitted by a mannequin that simulates the normal breathing of an infected person.

This study also proves that sophisticated aircraft ventilation systems removed 99.7% of particles contaminated with coronavirus before they even reached the “passengers” closest to the infected person, in this case the mannequins. 40 places were taken into consideration, 40 points closest to the infected mannequin, and the purity of the air in all places was 99.9%.

The results led the researchers to conclude that even with a full plane, the possibility of coronavirus infection on plane in twelve hours of flight is insignificant.

However, in this case, the tests evaluated only one scenario that it is involving only one infected passenger.

Also, the assumption of the research is that everyone on the plane wore the mask constantly and correctly.

Joe Pope, Chief Commander of the Transport Command (USTRANSCOM) said the tests were truly encouraging, although they had limitations. He also said the calculation for the Boeing 767 and Boeing 777 shows that cumulative inhalation of an infectious dose takes about 54 hours of flying. In the other words, an air passenger must fly for 54 hours with an infected person in order to be at risk of coronavirus infection on plane, which is actually impossible.

The tests analyzed the ability of transmitting the virus that is “distributed” by the passenger – a mannequin infected with the Covid-19 virus. Conclusion is that the risk of coronavirus infection in the aircraft is 0.0003%.



Airbus compared the spread of cough drops in the cabin of an A320 aircraft and those produced in another environment where several individuals maintain a distance of 1.8 meters, eg. an office, and the result was that the aircraft had a much lower exposure to infections.

Also in this case, it is all about the already mentioned advantages of aircraft, and these are air circulation, effective filters and the position of the seats such as proper use of protective masks.


Embraer analyzed the cabin of the aircraft, considering passengers sitting in different seats and with different airflow conditions in different parts of the aircraft, and the result was that the risk of coronavirus infection on the flight was extremely low.

The key to success is ventilation

One thing is for sure, the plane is not one hundred percent safe because, of course, there is no even one closed public space that really is. But from all the researches so far, we can all conclude that there is one factor that makes an aircraft the safest enclosed public space, and that is ventilation. The fact that the ventilation systems in the aircraft are so advanced that the air is renewed every two or three minutes is encouraging.

Additional precautions

In addition to all the technology, additional precautions are certainly desirable, which can only be influenced by ourselves:

  • keep the distance between passengers while waiting in line to board the aircraft.
  • avoid holding and creating jams when storing hand luggage in the upper cabin compartments.
  • mandatory proper wearing of protective mask upon arrival at the airport until the end of the trip by plane, or exit from the airport of arrival.
  • avoid unnecessary contact with other passengers and cabin crew.

The first Covid-19 free flights

According to all these studies, the above measures could soon be completely unnecessary. Improving coronavirus detection tests will allow all passengers to be tested a few moments before boarding the plane, which will be a kind of guarantee that they are not contagious, at least during the flight. All passengers boarding the plane will carry a boarding pass, a confirmation of the negative test result.

In Italy, where rapid tests have been on the market for several weeks, “covid-19 free” flights have already begun, and more information can be found on the All Italia airline’s website. This model is in the test phase, however, we have no doubt in great results.

Why doesn’t traveling by plane presents as much of coronavirus infection risk as it seems?

Most passengers who have flown in the past few months have found that the flights were almost as crowded as before and wondered how safe it actually is to fly at this time of the pandemic. But according to the aforementioned research, traveling by airplane seems to involve less risk than previously thought.

Air safety is currently and will forever remain one of the most common issues. We believe this is because flying itself already creates a psychological sense of significant danger to many people.

Often, we can hear the saying that “the most dangerous part of traveling by plane is driving to the airport.” We can say that something similar happens during a pandemic. Many passengers have criticized airlines that the planes they were traveling on were full, despite the recommended measure of distance indoors, and it turns out that the possibility of infection in the airplane cabin is less than at the airport itself or a cab.

However, it seems that absolutely all the data from previous studies speak in favor of airlines. This is supported by the latest report published by IATA. Of the 1.2 billion passengers who have traveled by air since the beginning of this year, 44 have been reported infected, meaning 1 infected for every 27 million passengers. This figure is so insignificant and should not be a concern at all.

After reading all the formal and informal researches, we can also agree that air travel is really safe if passengers follow the prescribed measures and use coronavirus protection products properly.


If you are also one of the brave air passengers, or you are just about to become one after this encouraging article, don’t forget that you can contact us for any questions regarding canceled flights, delayed flights to your destination or denied boarding. In addition, during the pandemic, there was a need to represent clients and to help the air passengers to refund money for unused airline tickets. Don’t forget about the problems with old flights up to 3 years back, for which, you may be able to claim compensation, too.

You can check all of the above in the complaint form, and instructions for use are here. 😊 Many will also find useful our blog with frequently asked questions and answers about canceled flights during a pandemic.



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