Air Travel in the Time of Pandemic


People today love to embrace an awful horror story, especially one that makes for good click bait. “Air travel” and “pandemic” in the same sentence will draw social media responses well beyond the mundane details of daily life–but therein lies the fallacy.

While the CDC assures travelers that “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” the larger warning, following this assurance, is that air travelers must “consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.”

In other words, it’s not the spectacular, scary “omigod I could get COVID on an airliner” premise but rather the mundane daily life exposure that’s the real threat. Between boarding and deplaning, from home to destination then back to home, you’re going to clock much more exposure to viruses than you will on the actual flight.

That’s exactly as it always has been in the airline biz–spectacular but .0011% accident rates are the clickbait headlines fueling air travel worries, even though over 200,000 annual U.S. traffic deaths don’t dissuade anyone from driving the Airport Freeway to get on a flight.

Airlines are taking this outbreak seriously–and notice that social media hysteria aside, the CDC has now reclassified Covid-19 as an “outbreak”–which is startling to me having been an airline pilot for decades. Typically, airlines are reluctant to enforce behavior standards among passengers for fear of damaging brands, invoking boycotts, or grabbing ugly headlines from out-of-context social media videos and photos. Not so in the case of Covid: passengers have been banned for life from several airlines for refusing to comply with CDC-recommended precautions.

The reality is, air travel, with aggressively sanitized planes, explicit exposure-minimizing crew procedures, and inflight uber-filtered air makes the actual flight the least contagious part of your trip.

So ignore–and resist creating–groundless social media click bait. Take normal precautions, bring hand sanitizer, water (stay hydrated!), mask up, and get aboard. If there’s anything to actually worry about, it’s your drive to and from the airport on deadly highways.

Air travel, as with freeway traffic, simply requires personal responsibility, normal precautions, then a determination to get on with your life.

Please do.

Looking for the real-life, in-cockpit view of air travel and airlines? Here it is. Awarded “Best Non-Fiction of 2020,” paperback or Kindle, from Amazon Books. CLICK HERE.

One Response to “Air Travel in the Time of Pandemic”

  1. Right on target Chris!

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