Four years ago Boeing introduced self-cleaning lavatories. Two years ago Recaro announced a self-sanitizing business class seat. Until coronavirus though some airlines were more interested in on-time departures than cleanliness.
Now we’re worried about how well cleaned planes are. We might pick up the new coronavirus from surfaces, though most transmission is thought to happen from respiratory droplets. Blocked middle seats does nothing to protect someone in an aisle seat from the person in the aisle beside them – or the passenger behind them.
Airlines filter air effectively (though small regional jets may not have HEPA filters), but respiratory droplets may infect someone before being filtered. In 2003 22 SARS cases are thought to have come from a Boeing 737 flight from Hong Kong to Beijing.
The researchers found that the risk for those in the three rows in front of the man, or the same row, was much higher than for those sitting elsewhere. But two people seated as far as seven rows in front of him were also infected, as were two flight attendants. Five passengers later died.
People moving around or touching surfaces may have played a role, or the virus may have floated in the air for longer than expected, the researchers concluded.
Other researchers have argued that a virus spread by respiratory droplets would be “limited to one row in front of or in back of an infectious passenger.” A Purdue-Boeing study, though, found:
- Flight duration and distance mattered for likelihood of transmission
- Changing air flow – “having air flow into the cabin from near the floor rather than from above” – would cut transmission risk in half
— 💀 damned sinker 💀 (@dansinker) April 28, 2020
This is similar to how restaurant air conditioning is thought to spread the virus. Changing air flow on a plane is no small task. And even so if the passenger sitting a row behind you sneezes, neither air flow nor filtration changes will help.
In the meantime since the new coronavirus can spread through feces, I’ll be avoiding using the lavatory on planes, in airports, and other public places – at least until Boeing’s Fresh Lav gains widespread adoption.
Fume events and unsanitary tank water are also important health issues in aviation alongside sanitization – but those likely won’t get attention unfortunately.
(HT: Tyler K.)