Home >> 
Answers from Experts:How to Take Flights During the Outbreak21/02/2020

As people started to return to work place after the Spring Festival, many passengers are concerned that they may be easily exposed to the virus when taking flights during the outbreak. How to avoid being infected in a small cabin? Do airlines and airports have reliable epidemic prevention and control measures in place? Experts from Civil Aviation Medical Center and staff of airports and airlines are here to answer these questions.

Aircraft Ventilation Systems Can Filter 99.99% of Viruses

Does it mean poor ventilation as the cabin looks narrow and small? The answer is No.

Requirements on ventilation during operation have been taken into account amid aircraft design. Under normal circumstances, air in cabin is replaced every 2-3 minutes, or 20-30 times an hour. There is also fresh air in the cabin, which is generated after external air being cooled by high-temperature pressurization of an engine (or APU) and mixed with the original air in the cabin filtered by HEPA, blown out by the air conditioning system from air vents above the seats, and finally pumped out through the grill near the floor. This design feature makes the direction of air flow in the cabin basically vertical, therefore air flow along the longitudinal direction of the fuselage is very small, which ensures air in the cabin is clean and fresh to the greatest extent, and under normal circumstances, disease will not be spread through the air conditioning system on board.

At present, most modern Boeing and Airbus airplanes in service are equipped with HEPA. Boeing points out in its maintenance manual that HEPA can effectively capture particles of 0.003-10 μm, and the filtration efficiency for contaminated particles of 0.3 μm can reach 99.97%. Airbus also released technical documents relating to the epidemic situation in Wuhan on January 23, 2020, believing that the HEPA of airplanes can filter 99.99% of viruses and bacterial particles.

The “vertical ventilation system” of the airplane allows air to flow vertically not horizontally; high-efficiency air filtering function of HEPA effectively filters virus particles, greatly reducing the possibility of virus spread on an airplane.

On-Board Emergency Handling

Since embarking an aircraft till arriving at the destination, the airport and cabin are unavoidable places for passengers to pass through. In order to prevent inflection through aircraft, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has in the early stage of the outbreak issued a notice requiring strengthening of ventilation and disinfection at key places such as airports and airplanes.

On the one hand, airlines have increased the frequency of daily cleaning and maintenance of on-board recycling air conditioning system. On the other hand, hygiene cleaning and preventive disinfection of the airplanes are being performed before and after take-off and landing, to increase the frequency of disinfection of airplanes.

Will cabin crew members become source of infection since they come into contact with so many passengers every day? This is also a concern of many passengers. In fact, airlines have stepped up training for cabin crew members, requiring them to wear masks during the whole flight, pay attention to hand hygiene, and disinfect their hands in time after touching garbage or suspicious pollutants.

What if a suspicious passenger having fever is found during the flight? Airlines also have “tricks” to deal with that. Each airplane is equipped with emergency medical equipment such as a Universal Precaution Kit, which can effectively deal with relevant medical emergencies and conduct disinfection at any time. When conditions permit, an emergency quarantine zone shall be set up in the last three rows of seats on the airplane, so that suspected passengers with fever can be immediately put in quarantine once found.

In order to minimize direct contact between cabin crew members and passengers, efforts were made to tell passengers to walk less in the cabin and to cut unnecessary conversations with them; airlines also adjusted meals and other in-flight supplies to optimize on-board service process. Now, on international long-distance flights, meals packed with tinfoil boxes and disposable tableware are offered in the business class to replace the original dessert, canape, soup, salad, bread, simple meals and bar snack; and fruit, cold buffet, bread and bar snack are cancelled in the economy class. For domestic and short-distance international flights, simple meals such as hamburgers or sandwiches are provided for all classes. For international and domestic flights, only disposable tableware, cups and earphones are provided, but no longer tablecloths and napkins, pillows and bedding products, pajamas and blankets, seat inserts and magazines; and disposable wipes are used instead of towels. Besides, the cabin is also equipped with medical disinfectant wipes and medical hand sanitizer.

Special Passages Provided for Suspected Passengers with Fever

Is it possible to get infected while waiting for boarding at terminals?

During the Covid-19 outbreak, airports have adopted a combination of different ways to prevent and control the epidemic.

First and foremost, temperature monitoring of passengers and health inspection have been strengthened. All airports are equipped with non-contact temperature detection equipment at appropriate positions at the entrance of terminal, and necessary disinfection products for hand hygiene are provided to passengers. Careful passengers may notice that the publicity video on health protection is circularly played on display screens all over the terminal, and that in the waiting area, staff would carry out inspection tours to check passengers’ health situation and if they have put on a mask, so as to improve the protection awareness of passengers.

In terms of disinfection, airports have intensified ventilation and disinfection at densely populated areas such as terminals. Fresh air supply from air conditioning systems has also been enhanced; service facilities to which passengers have frequent access, including check-in counters, document verification counters, has been disinfected on a daily basis, and so have filters and meshes of air conditioners.

For self-protection of the staff, airports have required on-duty service personnel to wear masks, and staff such as security personnel in direct contact with passengers to wear gloves, to strengthen hand hygiene and disinfection.

Flights carrying suspicious feverish passengers are arranged with special passages or remote stands, and special transfer procedures and routes will be set up for the passengers concerned to avoid contact with other passengers.

Passengers Should Increase Protection Awareness When Taking Flights

Passengers should wear masks throughout the flight with no fluky mind at all. They could also carry alcohol-containing disinfectant wipes or cotton pads for hand hygiene and places they may touch. Touching of eyes, nose or mouth with hands should be tried to avoid during the whole flight.

When boarding, passengers should try to take seats near the window and do not walk back and forth in the cabin. When conditions permit, passengers should try to sit away from other passengers so as to avoid direct contact or inhaling droplets coughed up by them. After boarding, passengers should try to avoid touching public facilities such as tray tables, windows, and seat armrests, which is better to be wiped with alcohol-containing disinfectant wipes or cotton pads before using. During the flight, passengers should try to avoid walking in the cabin or taking off their masks to eat and drink water. As it is impossible to clean and disinfect the toilets all the time during flight, passengers should try not to use them.

Of course, in order to minimize the risk of infection, physically uncomfortable passengers, especially those with fever and cough, should delay their travel until recovery.