Health Expert Questions Airlines' Claim That COVID Doesn't Spread On Planes

A recent study found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 while flying on an airplane is "virtually nonexistent," as long as all the passengers are wearing masks. Last week, the International Air Transport Association cited a study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine by Dr. David Freedman, a U.S. infectious diseases specialist, to back up its claims that it is safe to fly in an airplane.

"With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travelers, that's one case for every 27 million," IATA medical adviser Dr. David Powell said in a news release.

According to Reuters, Freedman declined to participate in IATA's press conference because he felt they used "bad math" to make their claims.

"They wanted me at that press conference to present the stuff, but honestly, I objected to the title they had put on it," the University of Alabama academic told Reuters. "It was bad math. 1.2 billion passengers during 2020 is not a fair denominator because hardly anybody was tested. How do you know how many people really got infected?" he said. "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

The airlines still maintain that the risk of catching COVID-19 while flying is negligible because of the ventilation systems that filter the air in the cabin. A recent study conducted by the Defense Department and United Airlines found that if somebody on a plane coughs, there was just a 0.003% chance that air particles would enter the breathing space of the person in the next seat over.

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