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Risk of coronavirus on planes less than getting struck by lightning, airline group says

Oct. 08, 2020
3 min read
Risk of coronavirus on planes less than getting struck by lightning, airline group says
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Travelers concerned about contracting the coronavirus on a flight can breath at least a small sigh of relief following new evidence that there is a very low risk of catching COVID-19 onboard an airplane.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has found only 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 caught on a flight from among the 1.2 billion people that flew between January and July this year, in a study released Thursday. That translates to one case for every 27.3 million flyers.

In other words, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than catching COVID on an airplane, the study found.

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IATA, as well as experts from Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, all agreed that the combination of wearing a mask and the constant airflow through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters keep cabins safe.

Brazilian planemaker Embraer found that masks alone reduced a flyer's risk of inhaling COVID particles by six times. This is greater than the benefit of, for example, blocking a middle seat for the appearance of social distancing on a plane.

“The social distance onboard an aircraft are ensured by the airflow," IATA medical advisor Dr. David Powell said during a briefing Thursday. "That’s the best protection onboard an aircraft.”

Related: What the heck is a HEPA filter? How airplane air stays clean

IATA's study backs up assertions by American Airlines, United Airlines and others that blocking seats does not provide safety from the virus. Instead, those sides say that masks, air filtration and enhanced cleaning measures are the best defense against transmission on a plane.

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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has said that his carrier's decision to block seats into next year is more a matter of building traveler confidence than anything else. In addition, the carrier has been able to command slightly higher fares than its competitors throughout the crisis possibly mitigating the impact of blocked seats.

Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines also either block seats or cap the number of flyers on their flights.

Related: Delta will block seats into January as it tries to boost traveler confidence

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when asked about inflight transmission in August, told TPG that the data was inconclusive.

Despite the new data showing a low risk of COVID-19 transmission on an aircraft, IATA and the planemakers agreed that risks remain elsewhere in the travel process. For example, in the airport terminal or on the way to the airport.

And the trade group is not bullish on a general recovery in air travel. IATA does not expect a full return to 2019 levels of flying until at least 2024, with domestic markets returning before international ones.

“If you want to travel and minimize the risks of COVID-19, put on a mask and get on an airplane," Luis Carlos Alfonso, vice president of engineering, technology and strategy at Embraer, said during the briefing.

Related: Global air travel unlikely to recover until 2024

Featured image by Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees