COVID-19 transmission on airplanes less risky than expected, study finds

The study saw researchers analyze and contact all 102 passengers from a March 9 flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt, none of whom had worn face masks.

Interior of a passenger airplane (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Interior of a passenger airplane
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Coronavirus transmission may not be as much a risk as previously believed, according to a recent study from a university hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, AFP reported.
The study, which was published on Tuesday in the US medical journal JAMA Network Open, saw researchers analyze and contact all 102 passengers from a March 9 flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt, none of whom had worn face masks.
On this flight was a group of 24 tourists, who had come in contact with a hotel manager in Israel that tested positive for the coronavirus. The tourists were tested upon arrival in Frankfurt, where seven tested positive, as did an additional seven in later tests.
However, researchers later contacted the other passengers. Two, who sat across the aisle from the seven tourists who tested positive upon arrival, also tested positive, and likely were infected during the flight. However, someone sitting in row 44, directly in front of the two who tested positive, was never infected. In fact, as the researchers explained to AFP, the two passengers were the only ones on the flight who were infected, with other passengers who sat directly adjacent to the infected tourists also did not test positive.
 "This person from row 44 told us that he had a long conversation, and was speaking a long time with both of row 45," Sandra Ciesek, head of the Institute of Medical Virology in Frankfurt, told AFP, noting that made it all the more surprising the person in row 44 was not infected.
While this does go against the prevailing opinion among experts, which states that the spread of a contagious respiratory virus like the coronavirus on an airplane would affect a radius of two rows of seats in front of and behind an infected case, it does have support from other studies. As the researchers noted, multiple studies conducted on the repatriation flights, which saw countries evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began, found no transmissions on board at all, AFP reported.
Despite this, the flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt shows that transmission on an airplane is still very much possible. However, the fact that repatriation flights, where all the passengers were masked, showed no transmissions, highlights the fact that masks are still very much an effective means of preventing infection, even on an airplane.


Tags germany Plane