Why coronavirus transmission is less in airplane cabins than restaurants and offices

Many people have this impression that airplane cabins are similar to enclosed air-conditioned rooms like restaurants, offices, enclosed places of worship, and bars. However, an aircraft cabin is far from those.

The transmission of contaminants like coronavirus is way lower than restaurants and offices. In fact, even if passengers inside an aircraft are seated right beside each other, the chances of getting infected on board is lower than that in an enclosed airconditioned room where physical distance is practiced.

Why is this so? It's because of AIRFLOW inside that enclosed area.

Enclosed airconditioned restaurants and offices

In Guangzhou China, a man positive the the coronavirus ate in a restaurant. Apparently after that, 9 others were infected with the virus, to think many of them were distant from each other.

In the diagram above, notice tables A, B, and C. On its right most is an airconditioner and basically, the restaurant has no natural ventilation. 

A1 was the carrier seated on table 1. This infected 5 others for the simple reason that they were in one table. Okay, social distancing issues. However, three people in table B and two in table C also got the virus! They were seated distant from the carrier on table A.

This is due to the airflow of the airconditioner you see on the right of the diagram. The system blows air towards table B. Now these droplets from the infected person would not usually stay long in the air, but with the air from the airconditioner which is blown horizontally, these droplets carrying viruses must have infected those on table B. Then the re-circulation process infected those in table C.

On top is the diagram of how air circulates from an aircon inside an enclosed room. Also, not all aircon systems are equipped with HEPA or High Efficiency Particulate Arrester filters which have a 99.9% efficiency in catching contaminants and viruses.

The horizontal airflow from airconditioners inside enclosed places cause the spread of the virus even if one is distant from the other, especially if the area is small and the blow is strong.

Airflow inside an aircraft cabin

So you might be thinking, "what more inside an aircraft cabin where everything is enclosed and pressurized and people are seated just right beside each other." 

This is a totally different case as the airflow inside a cabin moves vertically, from top to bottom and recirculates through ducts which passes through HEPA filters. Then 50% of the used air is flushed outside while 50% new air is injected and only 50% is recirculated from top to bottom.

The air flow which goes from top to bottom does not allow contaminants and droplets which may contain the coronavirus to travel which may affect passengers in other seats, instead, are blown downward.

The airflow direction is one, and the other is that the air inside the cabin is renewed every 3 minutes and that the modern aircraft like those from Airbus are equipped with HEPA filters which provide clean air. The air inside an aircraft cabin is very clean and very comparable to the air inside hospital operating theaters.

Passengers inside an aircraft also face forward and not facing each other, hence, the air they breath out flows down due to the airflow direction.

Other biosecurity measures still at place

While some airlines like Philippine Airlines are offering "distancing seats" as options, flying even if seated right beside each other is generally safe. Add the additonal biosecurity measures like health checks before departing and the mandatory use of face masks for passengers, you are assured that there is nothing to worry about on board, especially inside a pressurized environment like an aircraft cabin.

However, on board distancing is NOT mandatory.

Just make sure you follow all safety protocols and procedures like observing physical distance when it line and other biosecurity measures.

Once travel bans and restrictions are lifted, go travel and fly. Its safer than being in an enclosed airconditioned office space.

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