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How Safe is Air Travel?

Air travel is something that we should be able to do as safely as possible, as the world opens up. As we all know, Coronavirus has no intention of going on holiday. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t. Safe travel options have gradually been put in place for us all to escape the UK.

We’ve covered how the pandemic has changed cruise and train travel and how these industries have put measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone on board. The airline industry is no exception. Air travel also looks different post-lockdown to ensure everyone has a safe experience while travelling onboard an aircraft.

So, in this blog, we share some up-to-date air travel advice. Read on to gain the confidence to fly off from today.


First, we’ll answer the following question:

Is international air travel safe?

Air travel has always been a safe mode of transport. New procedures are now in place to make it even safer by reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

How air travel is safe:

is air travel safe

  • The air quality on an aircraft is a lot better than indoor environments because it is refreshed 10 times more than in most office buildings.
  • 99.993% is the bacteria/virus removal efficiency rate of the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filters on-board, which includes SARS. Similar to COVID-19.
  • Face masks are mandatory on airplanes.
  • All passengers are required to take tests before departure and/or to provide evidence that they have been fully vaccinated.

Therefore, these multiple layered approaches to protecting passengers and crew, alongside the aircraft’s airflow system ensure that there is a very low risk of COVID-19 transmission while you’re travelling in an aircraft. Read the conclusions from five aircraft studies here. On the other hand, there are precautions you can take, to travel with confidence by air as well…

How Can You Ensure Air Travel is Safe?

Safe air travel from home to your destination can be achieved if you and your travel companions follow the airline’s travel rules. This is one thing you can control.

Observe Social Distancing

wear a mask during air travel

Follow the social distancing measures, which have been put in place throughout the airport, as well as when you board and alight the plane. This can be achieved easily – especially if you leave lots of time to board your flight. If you are concerned about this you could book a flight really early in the morning or late at night. You could also ask for assistance at the airport. Usually, there is plenty of staff eager to ensure travellers feel at ease.

Take Hand Sanitiser and Wipes

You can carry and use your own hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes. Some airlines provide these as well, sometimes as part of a hygiene kit provided to all customers. However, if you have your own you’ll give yourself the option to clean your table before eating. Also, carrying a hand sanitiser will ensure you can sanitise hands regularly, throughout your trip.

Wear a Face Mask

As we know, COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) can be contracted via droplet transmission, when they are projected within short distances (<1m), while someone infected sneezes, coughs, or talks. Therefore, wearing a face mask during your flight can reduce the risk of transmission if someone is infected (nad may not be aware of it). However, remember that passengers who have any signs of a respiratory tract infection can be denied travelling onboard the aircraft. Plus, wearing a mask doesn’t just protect you but your fellow passengers and the cabin crew too!

How Do Airlines Ensure Safe Air Travel?

Pre-Flight Testing

air travel on board plane

Between November 2020 and March 2021, a joint testing trial was conducted by American Airlines, British Airways, and the Oneworld Alliance. This was designed to gather significant data about how passengers evaluate risk and comply with COVID-19 rules.

This data was then analysed by researchers at the University of Oxford. It was concluded that comprehensive Covid-19 testing can empower governments to lift their entry restrictions to allow travel to resume safely.

Nearly 80% of those who took part in the trial stated that they’d be happy to pay for COVID-19 testing. So testing was integrated into travel regulations and air travel began to operate again.

The IATA Travel Pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also aiming to provide countries with the assurance to open their borders, without the need for visitors to quarantine.

It has created the IATA Travel Pass, which many airlines are trailing.  The travel pass is an app that allows travellers to easily manage their COVID-19 certifications, tests, and vaccines. It then makes it easy to access and provide the relevant information at border control. See if your favourite airline is part of the Travel Pass program here. If it is you can apply to them for an invite to download the app.

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How Airlines Are Maintaining Safe Air Travel On Board Aircrafts

How clean is the cabin air?

With reference to medical evidence, your risk of an inflight transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be low or extremely low. The reasons why this is are not currently known. However, the combination of a lack of face-to-face contact alongside the physical barriers of seatbacks and the characteristics of cabin airflow during your flight may all be contributing factors.

Plus, while travelling within a commercial aircraft, the air is now replaced every three minutes (on average). Air enters the cabin from overhead and circulates across the aircraft before exiting near the floor. This means that there’s little longitudinal (front-to-back) airflow and the cabin air is a mix of recirculating and fresh air from outside.

Also, at cruising altitudes, the air from outside is assumed to be sterile. When it passes through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, the consequential air quality has been shown to meet the same standards that you’d find in hospital operating theatres.

Regular Cleaning

Airplane disinfection due to COVID-19

As there is the possibility of catching SARS-CoV-2 when coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, aircraft carriers have continued to be cleaned with agents that are highly effective at killing viruses on surfaces.

Airlines have increased the occurrence of cleaning, as well as the extent of the cleaning routine. The European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) has taken the step of updating its instructions on cleaning to ensure high standards of safety throughout every flight.

Staff are fully vaccinated for Safe Air Travel

To keep their staff, crew, and passengers safe, major airlines are requesting their staff to show proof that they’ve had their COVID-19 vaccinations. This is an indication of their quality of care, to ensure the virus doesn’t spread during air travel.

Airlines who request that their staff are fully vaccinated:

  • Air Canada
  • Australia’s Qantas Airline
  • Emirates was the first to operate a flight with fully vaccinated frontline teams
  • Frontier, an American ultra-low-cost carrier
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Hong Kong-based airline Cathy Pacific
  • Singapore Airlines
  • United Airlines

Innovations for Safe Air Travel onboard airplanes

More innovations to ensure safe air travel include:

  • Pure Cabin, an antimicrobial surface coating.
  • A hygienic boxed-meal system that has protective health benefits.
  • A flat-bed for single-aisle aircraft called the ‘VantageSolo’, which aids social distancing.

Overall, the airline industry has and will continue to innovate and operate safely, as each country opens its borders.

Free Spirit Travel Insurance for Air Travel

We hope we’ve given you the confidence to travel by air when you’re ready. As you can see, the airline industry has evolved its safety measures to protect its passengers and crew. However, remember the things that you can control to travel safely by air as well.

air travel

Whenever and wherever you go, for a spring, summer, or Christmas break, remember to take Free Spirit Travel Insurance, which includes Coronavirus Cover, and receive all the features of our policy (if and when required).


For more information about how to have an anxiety-free holiday, refer to our COVID Travel Guide.


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