A common myth about air travel is that if one person is sick on an airplane, all other passengers will get sick because they’re breathing the same air, but thanks to air quality control onboard commercial airlines, this simply isn’t true.
If you’re planning to fly domestically or abroad, there are a few things you might want to know about the air quality you can expect during your flight. Airlines carriers are quick to say that the air you’re breathing inflight is recirculated and filtered regularly, which means you’re not being exposed to things like bacteria and viruses through the recycled air.
In fact, because of the high-efficiency filters on most commercial airlines and the frequency the air is recirculated and filtered, the air you’re breathing on your flight is likely much cleaner and less contaminated than most office buildings and is on par with the air in most hospitals.
Air Filtration Systems of Planes
Most aircraft have robust filter systems. Except for some smaller or much older aircraft, airplanes are equipped with True High-Efficiency Particle Filters (True HEPA) or High-Efficiency Particle Filters (HEPA).
These filtration systems then filter and recirculate the air from the cabin and mix it with fresh air. The dirtier a HEPA filter gets, the more efficient it becomes, so it can easily handle the passenger load, even on larger jets.
Air recirculation also happens pretty quickly. The HEPA filtration system can make a complete air change approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every two to four minutes. According to IATA, the International Air Transport Association, “HEPA filters are effective at capturing greater than 99 percent of the airborne microbes in the filtered air. Filtered, recirculated air provides higher cabin humidity levels and lower particulate levels than 100 percent outside air systems.”
HEPA filters catch most airborne particles, meaning their capture standard is pretty high in terms of commercial spaces. A HEPA filter’s complete air change is better than most other forms of transportation and office buildings and similar to the standard for hospitals.
Air travel exposes passengers to a number of factors that may have an impact on health. Some medical conditions and lifestyle choices may affect the safety and comfort of air travel and should be considered before planning a trip. Pregnant women, people travelling with newborn babies and those with pre-existing medical conditions are advised to consult their physician to understand the potential risks of air travel and to find ways to make their trip safe and comfortable for themselves, other passengers and the crew.