Airline travel health tips have so far focused on how to stay hydrated and avoid deep vein thrombosis. What passengers really want is an increased focus on infection prevention and disease control, free masks, free hand sanitizer and more space between passengers on the plane.
This is according to our new research, published in the journal Infection, Disease and Health, which is based on the answers to surveys of 205 frequent flyers around the world.
Airline ticket bookings are likely to increase as New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland open their borders.
The aviation industry, decimated by KOVID-19, must work hard to restore customers’ confidence in their commitment to infection control measures.
Here’s what you need to know if you are planning to travel by plane soon – and what airlines can do to reduce the risk.
Read more: Aircraft cabins are a haven for microbes. Here is how they can clean up their act
Air travel and risk for KOVID: everything you need to know
Adopting a package of well-established infection prevention and control measures will help minimize the risk of contracting KOVID during the flight.
We flew, if we had to – but we would follow all the same measures we would take if we caught a train or other form of public transport.
These measures include, but are not limited to:
- staying home if not good. Even if you have the mildest respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat or a hint of fever, you should not go to the airport or board a plane. Isolate yourself and test yourself without delay
- regular hand washing or systematic hand rubbing with alcohol
- arousal of physical distance
- staying seated and avoiding touching the face
- where physical distancing is not possible, wearing a face mask.
These are the same long-term recommendations that you should follow anyway, whether you are taking a train to work or shopping in a supermarket.
Routine and systematic use of these well-established infection control measures will reduce the risk of contracting KOVID during air travel.
Passengers want more than airlines
The main finding of our study is that the flying public – especially frequent flyers – want more from their airlines on how to protect themselves from infectious diseases.
We surveyed 205 adults who often fly through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn about what they think airlines should do to restore passengers’ confidence and sense of security.
- 75.6% reported feeling “somewhat” to “extremely” concerned about contracting an infectious disease while flying, especially airborne diseases
- Only 9.8% think their preferred airline sees their health as a “top priority”
- 86.8% wanted airlines to provide free hand sanitizer
- 86.8% wanted airlines to provide free sanitary napkins
- 64.4% wanted airlines to provide free masks
- 90.7% wanted airlines to provide more information to prevent the spread of infections, which would make the majority feel safer to fly.
More than half of the respondents said they had never carried their own alcohol cleaners or sanitary napkins on past flights. Respondents were more likely to wear alcohol-based hand sanitizers or sanitary napkins while flying.
We also asked respondents how often they wore a face mask in front of KOVID to protect themselves from infectious diseases while traveling by air. The vast majority (83.4%) said they never wore it.
However, the majority (83.4%) stated that they would feel “somewhat safe” to fly if all passengers and staff were required to wear face masks while flying.
In other words, our study found that people are really willing to act in a way that reduces risk – some of them expect to support airlines, while others expect to support themselves.
KOVID-19 is spread all over the world by aircraft
According to the International Air Transport Association, since 2020, “44 cases of KOVID-19 have been reported in which transmission is thought to be related to air travel (including confirmed, probable and potential cases)”.
It is important to note that KOVID-19 is a disease that is spreading globally very rapidly through infected travelers.
Like many countries, Australia has introduced mandatory quarantine for international arrivals, which identify the infection in passengers. It shows that we – both passengers and airlines – must do everything we can to take appropriate measures to prevent airborne infections.
Many airlines have introduced measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19, such as temperature monitoring, check-in distance and encouraging airport masks. That’s good, but research tells us travelers want more.
As promising results emerge from the many COVID-19 vaccine trials conducted worldwide, Qantas CEO Alan Ooyois said:
We are looking to change the terms and conditions to tell international passengers that we will ask people to vaccinate her before boarding a plane.
Vaccination is a really important way to prevent the spread of disease and it is useful for airlines to signal that vaccines are coming and are important to them.
We have another time before vaccines become available, and we still do not know much – such as how long immunity to the vaccine may last or whether booster doses may be needed. So, there are a number of factors to consider if airlines are to order vaccinations for their passengers.
Oyoys also said it would be “uneconomical” to leave the middle seat empty in each row, instead of pointing to its aircraft air conditioning units, which feature filtered HEPA filters from the hospital, which removes 99. 9% of all particles, including viruses.
HEPA filters indoors make good sense and are important. But they are not everything and end up at all. If I am with someone on a plane who unknowingly has COVID-19 and they do not wear a face mask and sneeze, and their drops get into my eyes, nose or mouth, then I have a risk of getting COVID-19 despite HEPA filtration in the cabin.
In other words, the best protection comes from the systematic adoption of basic measures. This includes staying home, isolating and testing if you have even the mildest symptoms. This includes regular hand hygiene, avoiding touching the face, physical distancing and using a face mask if you can not physically distance yourself.
Practicing these measures routinely, along with other measures such as cabin air filtration, go a long way in protecting us from infectious diseases when flying.
Read more: Why the Oxford AstraZeneka vaccine is now a global game changer