How safe is flying during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Most of us have been grounded since the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic back in October 2020 and the implementation of the national lockdown (movement control orders). The thoughts of getting back onto the plane remains a dream as the number of daily reported COVID-19 cases in Malaysia remains high. There was a recent proposal to open up Langkawi as a tourism spot for local travellers who have been fully vaccinated. As we know Langkawi is an island and going there from the major cities would require taking a plane.

Is flying safe?

The simple answer is yes.

Flying on a plane itself is actually safer than eating in a restaurant. This is because the air in the cabin of the aircraft is replaced 20-30 times per hour as compared to a restaurant where it is only between 4 and 6 times per hour. Further, only half of the cabin air is recirculated and the air goes through the High-Efficiency Air (HEPA) filters before it is recirculated. The recirculated air is mixed with conditioned air from the atmosphere. The airflow in the cabin is also optimised to reduce cross-contamination. This means you get fresh air every 2-6 minutes.

Airflow in the plane (Information from IATA)

How to be safe while flying?

The important thing to do is to ensure that you follow all the standard operating procedures (SOP) while you are in the airport and on the plane. You should continue to wear your mask, have physical distancing and observe constant hand hygiene while you are in the airport, i.e., during check-in, at the immigration and customs, and in the boarding area.

While you are on the plane, due to the close proximity of other passengers, physical distancing is not possible. However, you should continue to wear your face mask and observe hand hygiene. If you need to remove your facemask, just ensure that the people around you have their facemask on. The overhead vents or “gaspers” should also be kept open during the flight as this will increase the airflow.

If you are bringing a child along with you on the flight, it is advisable for the child to wear a face shield on top of the facemask. This is because most facemask does not fit snuggly on the child’s face and some children are not comfortable wearing the mask and may take them off.

Prof Dr Victor Hoe shared his view on the safety of flying with Lee Chwi Lynn and Sharmilla Ganesan on the BFM Evening Edition, Inside Story.

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