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COVID-19: So you want to get on a plane? Read this first, and then you won’t.

COVID-19: So you want to get on a plane? Read this first, and then you won’t.

Is it safe to get on a plane?

With Qantas and other airlines announcing revised procedures before boarding and in the air, many starting in June, I began to get excited about the possibility of flying again until I read this in The Guardian Australia:

‘The infectious disease expert and epidemiology professor Marylouise McLaws told Guardian Australia that, like other densely populated enclosed spaces, planes were likely “brilliant amplification environments” for the virus.

“Perhaps there haven’t been confirmed cases from flights, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be careful, and it could just mean we haven’t identified them as a risk factor yet … There are still a significant amount of cases that are under investigation,” she said.

Many planes have advanced air filtration systems that refresh the air in the cabins every few minutes and remove virus particles, but multiple epidemiologists have said this likely won’t protect you if someone in your immediate area is infectious.’The Guardian Australia 20 May 2020

A virologist at the University of NSW, Professor Raina MacIntyre told the ABC recently that she would not be flying until vaccinated for COVID-19.

Sobering, isn’t it.

Do Masks help?

Yep, expert opinion supports the wearing of a mask on flights, so forget that you might look like a burke, sanitise your seat a la Naomi Campbell (I take it all back, Naomi), and wear a mask. If it’s just ordinary cloth, it will give you between 10 and 60% protection, and if it is a medical-grade mask (like those certified as ‘N99’) then you get 98% protection. If you are wearing a non-medical grade mask, then refrain from speaking or laughing as that will push particles through the looser weave of the cloth mask.

Most Australian airlines will be mandating the wearing of masks on flights, and will distribute them, but not all – I’m talking about you Qantas – will enforce wearing them. I’ll be taking my own N99 mask, thank you very much.

a group of people standing in an airplane

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

This has put me right off flying anywhere at the moment. I might risk a domestic flight for some pretty essential travel in the next few months, but I think international is off-the-table until either a vaccine or more advanced treatments for COVID-19 are available.

I’m speaking as a person that has more than one risk factor.

This information only solidifies my view that the Qantas’s ‘Fly Well’ procedures are more window dressing than health precautions. Some American airlines like Delta and now JetBlue are introducing social distancing on their flights, through blocked middle seats and other measures. It’s not perfect, and it’s not 1.5 metres or 6 feet of social distancing, but it does mean you’re not cheek-by-jowl with your flying neighbours.

Virgin Australia has made no announcements about their COVID-19 flight protocols, but then they have other worries, like will they survive until a new buyer is sourced.

You know, maybe we will be driving to our regional New South Wales holiday rather than flying, if we decide to go.

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