COVID-19 in Airline Business Class Flights


What is the Risk of COVID-19 on an Airline Flight in Business Class? As a mode of transport, commercial airline flights are believed to be one of the safest non-private modes of transportation, thanks to the powerful HEPA filters on board, which can capture 99.97% of virus particles. That said, since COVID-19 is airborne, there's still the risk of being infected by particles from passengers seated nearby. That's why airlines have mandatory face mask policies, even for kids 2 years old and older, and why Qatar Airways has mandated both a face mask and face shield for all economy class passengers (business class passengers in Qsuites are not required to wear them).

Business Class passengers may want to rethink and wear a quality face mask properly, however, for the entire flight, since two recent studies found multiple infections among business class passengers on the same flight. Since both flights were early in 2020, passengers were not wearing masks.

In the first study, on a flight from Boston to Hong Kong on March 9, 2020, a married couple was sitting in window seats, one behind the other. The two of them, as well as two flight attendants on the same flight, all tested positive for COVID-19 and the viral genomes were identical.

In the second study, on a March 1 2020 flight from London to Hanoi, a symptomatic passenger most probably infected 12 other passengers in business class. There wasn't genomic sequencing, such that it's not possible to rule out any other possible transmission. Nevertheless, it's striking how many other business class passengers nearby were infected around the same time, with no other likely contact with a COVID-19 positive person. Two passengers seated in front of the infected passenger (who was in a window seat on the right), 9 passengers in the middle seats, and just 1 passenger in a window seat on the left hand side were infected. A couple economy class passengers were also infected, but this could have occurred outside the plane, at the gate or in baggage claim.

COVID-19 Airline Business Class Flight

These incidents are reminders that, even with powerful HEPA filters that replace cabin air every 3-4 minutes, effective mask use is critical on flights even in airline business class, let alone economy class. And it's a stark warning against congregating in indoor spaces that have less effective air filters that don't have good outdoor air ventilation, such as many cruises, convention centers and restaurants.

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