Risk of COVID-19 exposure on plane virtually non-existent, study finds

A joint study from the Department of Defense and United Airlines found that the risk of COVID-19 exposure on a United airplane was virtually non-existent.

The study also found that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance that particles from one passenger can enter the breathing space of the passenger sitting beside them.

The reason is because of strong ventilation systems.  The study ran 300 tests in about six months with a mannequin. 

Some travelers we spoke to say their airplane experiences felt very safe, others are a bit skeptical. 


“You don’t want to let your guard down and think well air travel is fine. Yes, air travel on the plane while wearing a mask probably doesn’t pose a significant risk, it’s the other elements,” said Dr. John Whyte, the Chief Medical Officer of WebMD. "He says it’s not the airplane, but the whole travel experience that could put you at risk. Some examples: transportation to the airport, going to the bathroom, and entering stores at the airport, among many other factors."

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“I would still bring hand sanitizer, I would still wear a mask for sure, maybe a face shield and I would be very vigilant about physical distancing, getting to the airport, getting to the gate and once you land,” said Dr. Whyte. 

With the holidays quickly approaching, this study may come as a relief for those of you who want to visit family and friends out of state. But medical experts urge you to remain cautious. Remember, this study is based on a mannequin that stayed in one place with a mask on the entire time. During a real flight, you may be in a different situation.