Is Air Travel Safe During COVID-19? Here’s What the Research Shows

October 26, 2020

Concerns over safe air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many to put a hold on their travel plans. A recent study shows that risk of infection on an airplane is unlikely, and in fact, it’s almost impossible. 

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The safety of air travel has always been a paramount concern in the aviation industry, a field where the stakes are incredibly high and the margin for error is exceptionally small. This article delves into the complex world of air travel safety, exploring how this mode of transportation has evolved to become one of the safest ways to travel. From the meticulous work of air traffic controllers to the stringent regulations enforced by organizations like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, every aspect of the aviation industry is geared towards ensuring the safety of passengers and crew.

In this exploration, we’ll examine the various components that contribute to the impressive safety record of air travel. We’ll look at the rigorous training and protocols that flight crew and airline pilots undergo, the advanced technology and systems in place to monitor and manage flights, and the continuous improvements and adaptations made in response to past incidents. The role of international air transport bodies in standardizing and elevating safety standards across the globe will also be highlighted.

Join us as we embark on a journey to understand why, despite the high-profile nature of fatal accidents in aviation, air travel remains one of the safest forms of transport today. Through this examination, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted efforts and innovations that make millions of flights each year safe for passengers and crew alike.

Air Travel Safety By The Numbers

IATA (International Air Transit Association), the industry authority for all things travel, has released a study regarding those that have contracted COVID-19 on an airplane. In 2020, including both probable and confirmed cases, just 44 have contracted the virus on an aircraft out of 1.2 billion passengers.

Air travel safety in large airports
Airport terminal

That’s one infection per 27 million passengers flown. The study concedes that up to 90% of infections go unreported which could potentially increase the odds to one in 2.7 million but that’s unconfirmed at this stage.

To put that number in perspective, air travel has long been considered the safest way to travel, but your chances of dying in an airplane crash are one in 11 million. Passengers are 2.5x less likely to contract COVID-19 (with a 99% chance of surviving it) than they are to die onboard.

The study dates back to the beginning of 2020 before Coronavirus protocols were in place following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.)

More Likely To Be Struck by Lighting, Become Saint

With chances so low, how does air travel safety during COVID-19 compare to other rare events? Here are some stats:


Nothing in life is without risks. There are many other components to flying than simply sitting on the plane including getting to and from the airport, interacting with check-in staff, security, gates, and restaurants. Unless you’re flying private, you’re likely to encounter one of these areas which do have elevated risk.

However, air travel in and of itself is incredibly safe even more so from a COVID-19 perspective.

Final Thoughts

As we conclude our comprehensive examination of air travel safety, it is imperative to recognize the remarkable strides made in this field. The aviation industry, encompassing international air transport, has consistently demonstrated a commitment to advancing safety standards, resulting in an impressive safety record that sets it apart from other forms of transport. This commitment is evident in the various facets of air travel, from the meticulous training of flight crew and airline pilots to the stringent safety regulations implemented by bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States.

The role of air traffic controllers in maintaining the safety and efficiency of air travel cannot be overstated. These professionals work tirelessly to manage complex air traffic, ensuring safe distances between aircraft and optimal weather conditions for flights. Their expertise and decision-making are fundamental to preventing fatal accidents and maintaining the industry’s high safety standards.

Flight crew, including pilots and flight attendants, are the front line of aviation safety. Their rigorous training and adherence to safety protocols play a crucial role in maintaining the industry’s commendable safety record. Flight attendants, in particular, are trained to manage a variety of emergency situations, ensuring the safety and well-being of passengers in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

The fatality rate in air travel, when compared to other forms of transport such as car crashes, is significantly lower, underscoring the effectiveness of the safety improvements implemented over the years. These improvements are a result of continuous learning and adaptation. Every incident or near-miss is thoroughly investigated by organizations like the FAA, and lessons learned are integrated into future safety practices. This ongoing process of evaluation and enhancement has been instrumental in reducing fatalities resulting from air travel.

Moreover, the aviation industry’s approach to managing external factors such as weather conditions has been exemplary. Advanced technologies and forecasting methods allow airline pilots and flight crew to make informed decisions about flight routes and operations, further minimizing risks.

In conclusion, the safety record of air travel today is the result of decades of dedication to safety improvements, stringent regulations, and continuous learning within the aviation industry. The collaboration between international air transport authorities, the Federal Aviation Administration, airline companies, and air traffic controllers has created an environment where safety is paramount. As a result, air travel remains one of the safest forms of transport, with a fatality rate that is significantly lower than many other modes of transportation. This enduring commitment to safety ensures that air travel continues to be a reliable and secure choice for millions of passengers around the world.

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