New study shows likelihood quite small
Since the COVID-19 pandemic torpedoed nearly all travel back in March, I’ve only taken two round-trip flights — both within the state of California, and both less than an hour long. Armed with a large bottle of hand sanitizer, a pack of wipes and covered up with an N95 mask, I felt relatively safe. That I was about the only person in the newly Plexi-glassed airports I used helped, as did the scant number of passengers, all wearing masks, on each flight.
When I returned home, I told anyone who asked that I felt safer flying than I did shopping at a crowded Whole Foods or Lowes store in San Francisco. That assessment was likely right, according to a new study that finds the odds of catching COVID-19 on a flight are actually pretty low.
The study shows that passengers have 1 in 4,300 chance of catching the coronavirus on a full, two-hour flight. If the airline leaves the middle seat open, your chances of contracting the bug are nearly cut in half, to 1 in 7,700. And the chances of dying from COVID-19 contracted on a flight are between 1 in 400,000 and 1 in 600,000 depending on your age and other risk factors. That’s according to Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been trying to quantify the odds of catching COVID-19 while flying. The study was revealed in a recent Bloomberg story, which points out that the findings are not yet peer reviewed, but will likely be of immense interest to anyone thinking about flying soon.
Fliers have a much lower chance of dying in a plane crash — just 1 in 34 million. The lifetime odds of an American dying in an automobile crash are 1 in 114, according to the National Safety Council — significantly more than your odds of contracting COVID-19 on a plane. And how many of us have stopped riding in cars with odds like that?
But still, not everyone is willing to get on board a plane these days. Notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci, 79, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is currently not flying. He told Marketwatch last week that due to his age, he won’t be taking off on a plane any time soon. That sentiment is shared by Barnett, who at 72, told Bloomberg that his age puts him in a higher risk category.
Nonetheless, more travelers than ever are willing to take the risk of getting on a plane these days. According to the most recent data from the TSA, the number of travelers passing through airport security topped 800,000 on Sunday, the first time the tally has seen that type of volume since mid-March.
Dr. Bob Wachter, 63, the chairman of University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, and frequent commenter and tweeter on the COVID-19 pandemic, said on KCBS this week: “I flew a week ago to the East Coast wearing a mask and face shield and felt very safe.”
What about you? How likely are you to take a commercial flight between now and the end of the year? Tell us in the comments.
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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE’s senior travel correspondent. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE weekly email updates!
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