The World Health Organization’s official website says the risk of spreading infectious diseases on board aircraft is low because the air quality in the aircraft’s cabin is strictly controlled. But close contacts who sit in the same row and in the front and back rows with the patient may be infected with the virus. The article points out that the cabin air quality of aircraft is strictly controlled, and can be breathed 20 to 30 times per hour.
In addition, most modern aircraft have a recycling system that recycles up to 50% of cabin air. At the same time, the recirculated air is filtered through an high-efficiency particle catcher (HEPA) and eventually provides air that meets hospital operating theatre standards.
The World Health Organization says the spread of the virus can occur between passengers sitting in the same area of the plane, usually because infected individuals cough or sneeze, or by touching the surface of the residual virus.
In TB and Air Travel: A Guide to Prevention and Control, the World Health Organization defines close contacts as passengers in the same row and two rows before and after the infected person.
Ansys has used computer simulation systems to simulate the spread of particles in the cabin: a sneeze sprays droplets with bacteria and viruses into the air.
In 2018, emory University’s team published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that revealed how random movement in the cabin alters the likelihood of a passenger became infected.
The study showed that window passengers had fewer close encounters, with an average of 12 compared to other passengers, compared with 58 and 64 passengers in the middle and aisles, respectively. Choosing a window seat and staying in place reduces the likelihood of exposure to infectious diseases.
Because flight attendants spend more time moving around and interacting with passengers, more and longer close encounters are more likely, and studies suggest that a sick crew member may have infected 4.6 passengers.
Experts recommend washing hands with regular soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching any surface, and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose with your hands.