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  • Writer's pictureAisling Salisbury

Flying is Already Safe So Why a Jab?

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

A couple of weeks ago when Australia started reopening its borders it was good news for many airline employees in Australia as they were able to return to work. Even now the national carrier Qantas and competitor, the rebranded Virgin Australia are both, domestically, back at 60% capacity to their pre-COVID levels.

When Victoria and New South Wales reopened the border to one another, one of the world's busiest routes Melbourne-Sydney would start flying again. Not to the levels of pre-pandemic but this was cause for celebration. That same morning the flights resumed Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, was on the radio talking up how safe air travel was, not just in general, but at preventing the spread of COVID. He even stated that it was more likely you would be struck by lightning as opposed to getting COVID from someone onboard an aircraft. Yet that same day he also went on Television and stated that he anticipates that all passengers will require the COVID vaccine in order to travel with them in the near future. Now yes he is probably highlighting many Government policies that are likely to be adapted as part of incoming passenger requirements as he did not mention anything about Domestic travel. But the most curious thing is. Why if getting COVID on an aircraft is so unlikely would it be demanded that a mandatory vaccination be required in order to travel on board your aircraft?

We are now heading into the Christmas period and with the smaller than usual amount of flights available, flights are now fuller than they have been in months as families get together. So airlines have conducted studies, rightly so, to sell that it's safe to fly. A study worth looking at was conducted by the US Department of Defence and Harvard University along with United Airlines (well their aircraft). Many modern-day airliners do have Hospital grade filters in their pressurisation systems and have fresh air pumped into the cabin frequently compared to older aircraft. Once upon a time, the cabin air would only be refreshed every 30-60mins as it was a far more efficient method of pressurising the cabin. This is why in the 1990s you could hop on some older aircraft and still smell cigarette smoke. It was ingrained into the aircraft's cabin due to the decades of infrequent recycled air. Now pressurisation systems and aircraft engines are far more efficient and many aircraft have their cabin air recycled every couple of minutes. Combine that with Hospital-grade air filters then flying is now one of the safest methods of transportation now in more ways than one.

The study conducted actually found that on an aircraft, with passengers wearing a mask, there is a 0.003% chance of infection. It even made comparisons to places like offices, a supermarket and the family home. For an office or supermarket, the air was refreshed on average every 60 minutes. As for the family home, if there were no windows or doors open, the air inside would only be refreshed naturally every four hours. Yet an aircraft is getting fresh air on average every two minutes. It also found that 99.99% of air particles were filtered out of the aircraft cabin within 6 minutes. The study found that you would actually need to sit on a plane for 54 hours with an infectious person on board before you would even receive an infectious dose.

I have spent a lot of time onboard aircraft since July flying back and forth across the United States both upfront and in the cabin. Staff are required to have temperature checks throughout their duties each day. Passengers have to provide declarations that they aren't experiencing any symptoms or are sick before boarding an aircraft. In Australia, it is probably the only country that isn't mandating masks on aircraft, however, the airline is currently only operating Domestic flights, but they have mandated masks on their Government Charted Repatriation Flights.

We now have studies that have simulated coughing/infectious passengers onboard a packed plane and found if passengers are wearing a mask it was incredibly slim you too would be infected. Therefore if there are safeguards in place and the chances of getting sick are so low then why are we facing a mandatory jab before we get on a plane? If the chance of getting COVID is so low then it's wrong to demand this vaccine if you are highly unlikely to infect other passengers and staff anyway.

I believe this is more about Countries themselves, like Australia and New Zealand, wanting to remain a "COVID Safe Haven." Now we can discuss until the cows come home as to why countries like this want to remain like that, however, we are now seeing countries put in place COVID safe practices prior to boarding an aircraft.

Right now American Airlines and British Airways are conducting on the spot testing on departure and arrival on flights across the Atlantic as a means of opening up air travel again on this massive sector. Countries have other rules, such as the United Arab Emirates. To travel into the UAE you are required to have a negative PCR test within 48hrs of boarding the flight. On your arrival, you have to take another test and must self-isolate at home until the negative result, which usually takes no more than 24hrs. Other countries have Quarantine requirements on arrival, Australia's is a mandatory 14-day period in a Government-run facility. Other countries have "self-isolation" requirements at home. The UK has now even reduced the 14-day period to 10 days now based on data and the testing that many countries/airlines are implementing prior to a flight.

Let's recap, the chances of getting COVID onboard a flight is next to nothing, assuming there are infected persons onboard in the first place. If there is someone on board then the studies say the air is refreshed frequently and via Hospital Grade filters and with masks, the chances of getting infected would require you to be on board an aircraft for 54 hours straight. Although we Aussies fly some of the longest routes in the world, none are 54hrs from take-off to landing (aka not getting off the plane for 54hrs straight). We are now seeing rules in place to ensure that the chances of people getting on board a plane are boarding without COVID to begin with, I think it's fairly safe to say. Air Travel is safe.

It is clear that you could now have a personal choice. If you don't have the vaccine then there could be a requirement to have a certain amount of negative tests before a flight. I would rather the latter option in the short term. The biggest reason right now as to why many countries are probably not wanting this as a requirement is because apparently, the tests don't seem to be accurate enough. There are 'false positives' and 'false negatives' which requires extra testing to be sure. Wait! If we don't have an accurate enough test for detection then how could we possibly believe already we have a miracle vaccine? Indeed, the vaccine might not be a miracle with many now saying that the vaccine might not actually prevent you from carrying and spreading the virus anyway.

Look at the end of the day, even pre-Rona, don't get on a plane sick. If you are sick and don't know it, the actual studies are showing the chances of infecting others is very low if you and they take precautions. Therefore as you see your families and take to the air, remember to use common sense and use personal hygiene and you will be fine. Hopefully, the best gift we could get for Christmas this year is that Airlines and Governments realise that there is no requirement for a mandatory jab in order to fly on a plane.


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