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The air on planes is ‘as clean as an operating theatre’, say experts

A panel of health and aviation experts also say that airport temperature checks aren’t ‘valuable’

Ellie Walker-Arnott
Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott

As lockdowns lift and countries all over the world start opening up borders again, our thoughts have turned to travel. We could all do with a change of scenery and an opportunity to really relax. But how do we actually get to the sun-soaked beach we’ve been daydreaming about? 

After months of social distancing and avoiding public transport, stepping onto a plane could feel quite stressful. New systems, like temperature checks or even antibody testing at the airport (which is being enforced in Iceland) have been introduced in various countries. But do they actually help you to stay safe when you fly? 

According to a panel of health and aviation experts, the answer is no. 

Swab tests and thermal imaging cameras have been deemed ‘not "clinically valuable"’, reports the BBC, because they will still miss ‘one in every three infectious people’.

It’s not all bad news, though. The panel, which convened to advise the UK government and aviation industry, said that low humidity and air filtration systems already in place in planes minimise the risk of infection while on board. ‘The air in planes is about as clean as an operating theatre,’ said Professor Ashley Woodcock, who led the panel. Interestingly, public health officials in Canada say they did not find any cases of further infection after two passengers on a 15-hour flight from Guangzhou to Toronto were found to have Covid-19 earlier this year.

The panel also recommended that passengers should wear face coverings at all times, use hand sanitisers frequently and, where possible, stay two metres away from other people and their luggage. Other recommendations include passengers boarding and disembarking one row at a time and visits to the toilet being coordinated by cabin crew. 

Of course, it may be a while before everyone is comfortable flying again. But that’s just more reason to discover amazing places closer to home this year. 

When can we fly again? Here’s what we know so far

ICYMI: This new plane design has tried to solve the problem of social distancing in the skies

What will travel be like in the future? Greener and slower, according to these experts

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