We’ve had 4 different people request advice on how to minimize COVID-19 risks when flying, So, we did a bit of research about what scientific reports report on how to best reduce risks … including studies of which seats get the worst exposures to upper respiratory virus infections… focusing on SARS and Coronavirus infections.
1. Our biggest risk is inhaling highly-infectious fine aerosols from fellow passengers or Flight Attendants talking. For that reason, we advise taking 2 superb medical grade masks on any the trip … in case you misplace one.
… See TalkingAerosols.com for details on superb medical grade masks.
2. Plan to sit in the middle of the plane … at a window seat … at the point farthest from the bathrooms.
Every single Public Health study, that measured viral exposures for upper respiratory viruses … (and even Tuberculosis by inhaling contaminated fine aerosols) … show that those window seats … middle of the plane … farthest from the bathroom get as much as 7X times lower exposures than the aisle seats close to the bathrooms.
Any aisle seat is undesirable, because of people walking by … leaining above you … spraying, breathing …. where lots of people keep walking to the bathrooms… WITHOUT MASKS… as the airlines ONLY require masks to get on the planes.
Yes… the airlines fear angry passengers getting violent with stewardesses on the planes if the Flight Attendants even asked politely that stressed passengers to put their mask back on… … SO EXPECT SOME PASSENGERS TO HAVE NO MASKS during the flight … per the latest official airline policies.
3. BE THE LAST PERSON ON THE PLANE … Sit in the gate area … 10 ft away from other people … 10 ft is the actual safe distance for being protected from plumes of the nastiest COVID infected aerosols.
… If you doubt this 10 ft rule, REMEMBER back to some smoker’s burning cigarette in the ashtray … the smoke moves out as a slow swirling plume … The nastiest fine COVID aerosols (from people talking) swirl slowly away from the talker … in plumes… over the next 3 hours after the infected-person talked … just like that old cigarette smoke swirls out slowly, in plumes…
Weirdly … the CDC has assumed that the infectious COVID aerosols from talking … magically… move out from the infected-speaker … as a uniform mist… Strangely, by announcing just a 6 ft “Social Distancing” standard … the CDC guys did not consider plumes of the nastiest COVID-contaminated aerosols swirling out at plumes, from COVID-infected person talking.
Also, notice that the first person boarding onto the plane, sitting in a 1’st class aisle seat … where they have to experience EVERY SINGLE other entering passenger’s gunk … is the worst seat … at the worst time.
So… insist on that scientifically-proven-most-safe window seat far from the bathrooms … plus getting on the plane LAST … … and then sitting quietly till everyone else leaves …. truly does limit your exposures best.
4. Next consider the coughed-spit-sneezed- Ssss’s, T’ssss, popped Psss and Ch’s by people standing over you (as you sit, trapped in your airline seat or restaurant seat )… Those big droplets that we can see (not the fine invisible 1 um swirling ones) …. those big droplets spray out of everyone’s mouth when talking, coughing or sneezing … and they fall quickly in a curved downward path landing between 3 ft to 6 ft of the messy-speaker-cougher
That’s why Doctors & Nurses wear face shields for the big droplets plus a good medical grade filter-mask (for the invisible swirling highly*infectious mist inhaled aerosols)…. So … consider either a decent pair of safety glasses (I have two, designed especially for surgeons & EMTs … to stop the spray hazard) … or consider a face shield.
Then note that official lab safety glasses (with side shields) + mask are as good as mask + cheap face shield … and you only look ½ as geeky.
5. So… we really do not want a flight attendant or any passenger standing over us… talking (spitting) directly down onto us… which is the second reason for the WINDOW seat … where no one even climbs over you. as even the best glasses or face shield do not stop everything.
6. HYDRATE, HYDRATE HYDRATE … because thin runny mucous is your best defense at your body (nose-throat-lung) mucous membranes catching & sweeping away any inhaled particulates or aerosols (drink enough till you urine is light straw colored in the bowl)…
7. Also … take vitamin C at least 3 times a day … 125 mg per dose … because we pee out the morning Vitamin C pill by 12:00 noon … Vitamin C acts as a bodyguard molecule, to protect your key immune system compounds in your mucous membrane keeping them in top fighting condition.
8. In addition to consuming sources of 125 mg of Vitamin C at least 3 – 4 times a day, consider sucking on Zinc lozenges while in the airports and during the flight. There is some decent evidence that Zn bathing our throats can be effective at inhibiting the upper respiratory viruses reproduction .. (like SARS * COVID-19’s virus) .
9. Have a good strong flow of HEPA cleaned air flowing past your face, when in your seat on the plane… Turn on your air flow jet, at your seat … to get a constant flow of fresh purified air … blowing away any of your neighbor’s swirling invisible COVID infected fine aerosols, so you do not contact them …. as the airlines now have HEPA filtered air on their HVAC systems…. So again … the constant breeze… blows any of the neighbors infected aerosols away from your face.
With the airlines running HEPA filters … and you getting on the airplane last … and you wearing a superb medical-grade mask that outperforms the N95 masks … and you sitting in a window seat (not being spit on) … and you wearing professional medical eye protection … and you sitting far from the bathrooms …. and you having both your mucous membranes in top performance & immune system in top performance (hydrating, Vitamin C and Zinc) ….
and yes… Wash your hands & use hand sanitizer … (worth doing to STOP BACTERIAL infections … because touching things is the lowest source of COVID risks on airplanes) …
then …. If you have done all of that…. You’ve done your best to minimize your risks from flying.
Dr. Steven Michael Fry
Ph.D. Analytical Chemistry, Aerosol Science, Medical Laboratory – Measurement Science, Public Health & Environment ..