What you should know if you have or need to travel by air during the COVID-19 pandemic
While the risk of catching an infection on an aircraft is typically lower than in a shopping center or an office environment, there are simple measures you can take to further reduce the risk when traveling: wear a mask, clean your hands regularly and check-in online to minimize contact at the airport.
And important to know: nearly all planes today have very sophisticated air filters which catch 99.99% of particles, including viruses like COVID-19. The cabin air is also replaced with new fresh air from outside every two to three minutes. This means that what you breathe onboard is the same quality as in an operating room at a hospital.
Put it all together and flying remains one of the safest travel alternatives even during COVID-19.
Finally, you must not travel when you are ill. Should you experience symptoms during or after a trip, seek medical attention. Most governments also provide clear instructions.
Coronavirus & Air Travel FAQs
Where can I find information about current travel restrictions?
Please refer to IATA Travel Centre website for the latest updates on travel restrictions related to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Is the risk of contracting a virus on a plane higher than in a shopping center or in an office?
We assess that the risk is lower. Compared with those locations, a modern aircraft has its cabin air changed many times more frequently than offices or shops. For most modern aircraft types, the air supplied to the passenger cabin is either 100% fresh or is a mixture of fresh and re-circulated air that is filtered through HEPA filters of the same efficacy (99.97% or better) in removing viruses as those used in surgical operating rooms. As in a shopping center or an office, the biggest risk is if someone remains in the environment while unwell with a viral infection. Hence maintain good personal hygiene is key!
What can passengers do to protect themselves from infection on board?
Wearing a mask is required by most airlines and is recommended by IATA for the entire journey, from entering the airport to to flying and leaving the airport at destination. In addition, the range of simple measures advised by WHO are also applicable for passengers: hand-washing or use of hand sanittizer on a regular basis, avoiding touching other people, covering coughs and sneezes (and then hand-washing), avoiding travelling if becoming unwell, and avoiding contact with anyone who appears to be unwell.
Is wearing a mask onboard obligatory?
Yes it is. Wearing a mask is not just about protecting yourself, but protecting everyone else on the flight. It is part of the different factors making the risk of catching COVID-19 on a flight very low, alongside the high flow rate of cabin air from top to bottom, constant filtering of air through HEPA filters, the fact that all seats face the same direction and sanitization. Not wearing a mask could lead to penalties. Please see our press release: Travelers Face Risk of Penalties for Refusing to Wear Face Coverings
Does IATA have a policy that airlines have to follow regarding flight rebooking or refund for trips canceled due to COVID-19?
IATA does not have a role in this. Each airline will have its own policies with regard to refunds and flight re-bookings, subject to local rules and regulations. Please check with your airline or travel agent
General Health & Aviation Frequently Asked Questions
How safe is the air in a modern aircraft?
Very safe. In fact, these European Aviation Safety Agency studies showed that “the cabin/cockpit air quality is similar or better than what is observed in normal indoor environments” such as offices, schools and home dwellings.
Modern aircraft have high efficiency air filters similar to those used in hospital operating rooms. They capture more than 99.9% of the airborne microbes in the filtered air.
Where to find information on health and well being related to air travel?
See these useful resources: