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Is air travel safe?

Is Air Travel Safe?


    The corona outbreak started from the city of Wuhan in china and spread its wings to the world over. With increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases spreading on one side and at the same time the stark contrast of economy declining on other side  is looming large in the face of nations world over. More than two months of lock down people are raring to get out of their homes to earn and fend for their living. With many people, family members, entrepreneurs stranded at different distant places opening of air travel was a necessity as thoughtfully perceived by ministry of civil aviation and resumed domestic flight operations. But the dangling question is, Is air travel safe? In flight transmission of contagious and infectious disease is a global health concern as the air travel can serve as a channel of spread for pandemics. In India with the domestic flights resuming on May 25 a detailed outlook on risk of fliers and their degree of safety is assessed by magzblog.


    New Normal Air travel

    Social distance 


    Now the Domestic flights have eagerly resumed their operations and are flying as essential special services following diligent guidelines of safe air travel amidst COVID-19 pandemic with Boarding passes being delivered to the passenger 12 hours in advance to flight departures through respective client emails with auto assigned seat numbers. A self declaration from domestic passengers are cardinal for air travel permit submitting that they are free from any discomfort and signs and symptoms of clinical disease which  is endorsed and reflected as 'HOK' meaning 'health ok' fit to travel on their boarding passes. A mandatory thermal screening and social distancing are carried out by the authorities at the airports further curtailing the spread by issuing face masks and face shields to all its passengers. A visual semblance to a science fiction movie as we slowly treaded the aero bridge experiencing the new normal air travel.
     
    chance of digressing from social distance


    Time and distance matters for in flight safety

    With the application of science of epidemiology behind the Covid spread what we widely know from WHO's recommendations are social distancing up to 1 meter, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, regularly and thoroughly cleaning your hands with a soap and water or alcohol based hand rub.


    As we descend the aero bridge and step into the flight a strange feeling of claustrophobia engulfs the passengers as the new normal milieu of in flight cabin altogether gives a different look with air hostess donning the PPE and passengers sitting standstill under the protective hood shield certainly a novel terrific experience for domestic travelers post lock down with none of the middle seats left vacant.


    One important aspect of virus transmission will depend on time of exposure during travel and distance of travel augmented by the closed air conditioned environment of the passenger cabin will dictate virus spread even  if there is chance of one asymptomatic carrier in the cabin. The WHO defines contact with an infected person 'as being seated within two rows of one another'. Well this fact is probably overlooked by our countries air carriers as they seem to be confident on the self declaration of health status declared by air travelers supported by the green status of their mobile Arogya Setu app to vouch their virus free health status. well this might alleviate momentary concerns but never a foolproof protocol system. 

    New Normal Air travel?



    Making people sit as a statue for long hours in flight is again a challenge by itself as they may require use of toilets, use the over head bins and what not? The aircraft is designed as a metal cubicle with air conditioning system. If by chance one passenger turns out to be a potent source of infection, compounding with time and distance of flight travel, with proximity of co passengers, the shedding of virus from source to all the surfaces the infected person touches can be turned into fomites which will endanger air travel.
     From the flight design and seating pattern it can be deduced that a person seated in a window seat is least prone to exposure. Other places are deemed to be in the region of being exposed because the aisle seat is closer to the aisle where the movement of people will be maximum and so is the middle seat not far away from the aisle. Hence, window seat passengers are less likely to face a far few close encounters and are less prone. If your travel is very essential and unavoidable aim for an window seat booking.

    Flight Services

    Point of Contact


    An important point of contact in the flight are our valiant, dutiful, selfless, but still gorgeous Air hostess who attend the passengers for extended time. The likelihood of Air hostess being a source of infection is rather minimal since I am sure they would be undergoing a stringent screening procedures in pre-flight preparations. But you never know one in thousand may pop out from somewhere out of the blue. Otherwise, the situation may happen vice versa wherein the infected passenger may pass on the infection to them. There are hoardes of flight service personels who handle our baggage, provide water and refreshments to the flight crew and the chances of all they being virus free to get our travel scot free is again a point of concern. Even now a thing of real concern exists for sure in the procedure of screening the passengers in spite of best of practices instituted are, because the danger lies in the long incubation periods of up to 14 days for the COVID-19 virus for its disease clinical manifestation the virus can be dormant in a passenger's body without showing any outward clinical signs or symptoms but he can be an active  source through his or her aerosol droplets termed technically as asymptomatic carriers. This category compromises the effective screening protocol adopted now for effectively weeding out such asymptomatic unsafe passengers from air travel through screening.

    Ventilation of the cabin

    The COVID-19 being a droplet mediated respiratory infectious disease, ventilation of the cabin assumes importance. Normally, Ventilation provides a total change of air 20-30 times per hour. Most modern aircraft have recirculation systems, which recycle up to 50% of cabin air.” For Covid-19, the WHO has prescribed that a distance of 1 metre should be maintained. with huge population like our country it is very difficult to maintain a 1 metre distance as most of the domestic aircraft carry full capacity and the air carriers cannot afford the luxury of leaving the middle seat empty during the periods of dwindling air industry recession. Movement of passengers and crew can play a key role in virus transmission in this closed ventilation system. Any source of infection from a passenger droplet can be stepped up because of the air conditioned environment with frequent air exchanges. The idea of Face shield has been conceived to reduce such risk from contacts in such cases the efficacy of such a practice is yet to be evaluated.

    Reproduction Number ‘R0’

    A term called reproduction number denoted by ‘R0’ refers to the number of people an infected person can pass on the disease ranges from 2 to 3. This number is very much higher for the COVID-19 virus in comparison to the already prevalent common influenza which is only 0.1 .This indicates that corona virus is much more contagious and virulent virus.


    Coming to the case fatality rate ie., the number of person succumbing to this virus to the number infected is lurking around 3% which is again much more than the common cold influenza for which a flushot is in vogue and we are yet to find a solace as Covid -19 is yet to be harnessed by a vaccine.




    Conclusion

    In consideration of the above facts, the only light that appears at the end of the tunnel seems to be the health hygiene practices for personal safety which are the social distancing norms and cleansing hands with soap and water and self protection by covering the physical portals of spread i.e, nose, mouth and eyes by a face mask and a face shield is to be followed in letter and spirit to prevent infections. With the government announcing the resumption of domestic flights first and international flights will open sooner or later, much caution is to be exercised by air travelers in preventing spread and breaking the transmission chain knowing the epidemiology of the potent virus.

    If arduous task of testing every individual is instituted which is next to impossible in the impending days it will be a huge bonus in tackling the pandemic. So with such tall risk factors compounded with risk of exposure, reduced testing, unreported cases, asymptomatic cases travelling for hours in an air conditioned environment it is very vital to reconsider the decision of an air travel at least in the coming months unless it is an emergency or unavoidable circumstance to the core then only one should consider air travel during these times of pandemic crisis.


    Stay healthy Stay safe be Happy


    magzblog













    Comments

    1. Yeah its true...
      Our first priority must be health

      ReplyDelete
    2. Rightly said! One is responsible for ones health!! Follow stringent practices..
      Stay safe!!

      ReplyDelete

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