An informal survey of airlines indicates that very few cases of COVID-19 have been transmitted during flight, aeromedical specialists said during a Flight Safety Foundation webinar on Wednesday.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) received reports from airlines of “three or four cases” in which there was suspected transmission of the disease between passengers and crewmembers; two other events were reported in which one pilot apparently infected the second pilot in the flight crew, Dr. David Powell, IATA medical adviser, said.
Powell also noted reports of a flight that carried 12 passengers who failed to disclose their COVID-19 symptoms; subsequent testing of other passengers found that, of 296 results that had been returned, all 296 were negative.
Dr. Ansa Jordaan, chief of the International Civil Aviation Organization Aviation Medicine Section, agreed that exposure to COVID-19 would be considerably less in an airplane than in a baggage claim or customs area where people would be closer together.
Dr. Paulo Alves, global director for aviation health at MedAire, said that, over time, flight attendants have reported observing different symptoms that have been associated with COVID-19 as well as other ailments. Reports of coughing, for example, increased from week to week to a high in about the 13th week of the virus’s spread, then dropped off the 14th week. There is no explanation for the change, however, Alves said.
The webinar, moderated by FSF President and CEO Dr. Hassan Shahidi, was the third in a series being presented by the Foundation. The next session, focusing on humanitarian efforts associated with the pandemic, will be held at 10 a.m. EDT (2 p.m. UTC) April 21.