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How risky is air travel? Lowering your COVID-19 risk if you fly

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Posted at 2:39 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 17:43:38-04

What are the risks of flying during this pandemic? The Centers for Disease Control still says any travel “increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” But more jobs are requiring workers to fly, and more travelers are choosing to do so.

If you do fly, how do you lessen the risks of catching the virus? Some experts say and studies show protecting yourself starts well before you get to the plane.

It makes sense, the fewer people you encounter, the lower the risk of catching the virus. That means checking in online and traveling with a carry-on only if possible so you don't deal with baggage.

At security lines, TSA is now using social distancing and there are contactless ID checks. And TSA Precheck may be even more appealing to avoid long lines. Scott Keyes with Scott's Cheap Tickets says the $85 five-year TSA Precheck membership is included with a number of credit cards.

Once you get to the plane, does your seat matter? An Emory University study of respiratory illness paths shows window seats may be less risky than aisle seats.

The study found people in window seats got up less often. Keyes says it makes sense that people sitting in aisle seats would have closer contact with others walking up and down the aisles.

But maybe the biggest concern for many flyers, how safe is the cabin air? Former engineer and commercial pilot Ron Carr says it's a myth that cabin air is just recycled within the cabin.

Carr is now a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "For the most part, air is continually being replaced in the cockpit and in the cabin," he says.

The airlines say there's a complete exchange of cabin air about every three minutes. They say HEPA filters take out 99 percent of airborne particles. But bottom line, wherever you sit, your risks are higher if you're within six feet of an infected person.

So before traveling, check out the Centers for Disease Control's latest COVID travel warnings:

Here's what American Airlines is doing to protect passengers:

Click here for Southwest Airlines COVID protection:

Find out more about Delta Airlines virus protections:

Here are United Airlines COVID cleaning policies: