Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said in its COVID-19 guidelines which do not recommend following social distancing between two passengers inside a plane or keeping the middle seat unoccupied. As a result of coronavirus pandemic, air traffic inside the US has come to a near halt. Air traffic is said to be down to about 90 per cent. For all travellers coming from overseas, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended 14 days quarantine.
“Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” the CDC has said in its set of COVID-19 guidelines for air travellers. However, it noted that the air travellers were not risk-free specially in the time of the coronavirus pandemic and recommended Americans to avoid travel as far as possible.
“Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces,” it said. “Social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within six feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC said.
But instead of recommended social distancing inside commercial planes, the CDC has advised a series of preventive and hygienic measures to be taken by the airlines pilot and crew to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The US Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration in its latest safety alerts for operators on May 11 said that air carriers and crews conducting flight operations having a nexus to the US, including both domestic and foreign air carriers, should follow CDC’s occupational health and safety guidance.
The CDC issued its guidelines in first guidelines for the airlines and airline crew on March and again in May. The CDC, which has issued an exhaustive social guideline measures in various sections, is silent on keeping the middle seat of a plane unoccupied so as to maintain the six feet distance between two passengers.
It calls for the plane crew to report to the CDC a traveller with specific COVID-19 symptoms like fever, persistent cough, difficulty in breathing and appearing unwell.
Asking the airlines and cabin crew to review infection control guidelines for cabin crew, the CDC recommends several measures for cabin crew to protect themselves and others, manage a sick traveller, clean contaminated areas, and take actions after a flight.
Prominent among them include wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after assisting sick travellers or touching potentially contaminated body fluids or surfaces and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 per cent alcohol) if soap and water are not available.
Airlines should consider providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer to cabin and flight crews for their personal use, it said. The CDC guidelines do not recommend following social distancing inside a plane between two passengers or keeping the middle seat unoccupied. But it asks to minimise contact between passengers and cabin crew and the sick person.
“If possible, separate the sick person from others (by a distance of 2 meters or 6 feet, ideally) and designate one crew member to serve the sick person. Offer a facemask, if available and if the sick person can tolerate it. If a facemask is not available or cannot be tolerated, ask the sick person to cover their mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing,” said the CDC guidelines.
If no symptomatic passengers were identified during or immediately after the flight, the CDC recommends airlines to follow routine operating procedures for cleaning aircraft, managing solid waste, and wearing PPE. “If symptomatic passengers are identified during or immediately after the flight, routine cleaning procedures should be followed, and enhanced cleaning procedures should also be used,” it said.
Clean porous (soft) surfaces (e.g, cloth seats, cloth seat belts) at the seat of the symptomatic passengers and within 6 feet of the symptomatic passengers in all directions, it added.