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Delta study finds low Covid-19 transmission rates onboard aircraft

Delta study finds low Covid-19 transmission rates onboard aircraft

The risk of exposure to Covid-19 while travelling after all passengers test negative 72-hours in advance of your flight is less than 0.1 per cent.

That is according to a unique study that examined real-world customer data on Delta Air Lines’ Covid-tested flight corridors between New York-JFK, Atlanta and Italy’s Fiumicino International Airport.

The peer-reviewed study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed a single Covid-19 molecular test performed within 72 hours of departure could decrease the rate of people actively infected onboard a commercial aircraft to a level that is significantly below active community infection rates.

For example, when the average community infection rate was at 1.1 per cent – or about one in 100 people – infection rates on Covid-19-tested flights were 0.05 per cent, or five in 10,000 passengers.

The Georgia Department of Health and Mayo Clinic conducted the study in conjunction with Delta.


“We are going to live with Covid-19 variants for some time.

“This real-world data – not simulation models – is what governments around the world can use as a blueprint for requiring vaccinations and testing instead of quarantines to re-open borders for international travel,” explained Henry Ting, Delta chief health officer.

“Air travel risk varies depending on case rates and vaccination rates at the origin and destination, masking and other factors.

“But the data collected from this study show that the routine use of a single molecular test within 72 hours before international travel for unvaccinated individuals significantly mitigates the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission during airline travel.”

Ting added that our real-world experience and testing protocol demonstrate that a very low risk of infection transmission is possible, confirming previous simulation models of viral transmission on planes.

The study began in December with the trans-Atlantic Covid-19 testing program that enabled quarantine-free entry into Italy and allowed teams to review and model various testing strategies for feasibility, false-positive rates and case detection rates.

Now, the results of this study are available – offering unique data insights on the risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposure, infection rates on board and showing the feasibility of putting in place a testing protocol with meaningful impact.

“When you couple the extremely low infection rate on board a Covid-19-tested flight with the layers of protection on board including mandatory masking and hospital-grade air filtration, the risk of transmission is less than one in one million between the United States and the United Kingdom, for example,” Ting added.

“These numbers will improve further as vaccination rates increase and new cases decrease worldwide.”