Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many people have questioned the safety of flying in close quarters with other people breathing in cabin air. But a new study shows that flying while wearing a mask presents an extremely low risk of contracting COVID-19.


The study, which was conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published last week and the results showed that COVID-19 exposure was “virtually non-existent” when wearing a mask. The numbers showed a mere 0.003 percent chance that particles from a passenger could enter the breathing space of another person sitting next to them on the plane.

The study was conducted on a United plane over the course of six months, using a mannequin equipped with an aerosol generator that mimicked breathing and coughing. Three hundred tests were conducted to see how the particles generated by the mannequin moved through the cabin and the likelihood of a person breathing in the particles, both with a mask on and off.

The study seems to prove the idea that flying is safe due to the high filtration with HEPA filters and constant circulation of air in the cabin. The study even showed that COVID risk was lower onboard the plane than in a private residence. The authors went on to conclude that the environment on the plane which offers “a combination of a HEPA-filtration recirculation system and the high air-exchange rate,” is not matched by other indoor venues  “including most hospital and biosafety-level 3 laboratories.”

“Aerosol exposure risk is minimal even during long-duration flights,” read the study. The information also indicated that mask-wearing was critical.

“The application of a mask provided significant protection against micron diameter droplets released during the cough simulations,” said the study.

“Keeping air supply and recirculation mode (HEPA-Filtration) operating is critical,” concluded the study authors.

It remains to be seen if this information will result in more people willing to fly over the upcoming holidays.