As the UK starts slowly to open up, the weather improves, and our thoughts turn to holidays, it comes as no surprise if some people have an understandable concern about clean air in airplane cabins as they, along with other confined spaces, have been an area of concern throughout the pandemic.
However, the good news is that the air inside a plane is cleaner than you might think. Efficient circulation and High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which stop and catch almost 99.8% of airborne particles over 0.3 microns in size mean that in most commercial aircraft, the on-flight air, while not guaranteed to be virus-free, is much cleaner than the air in many bars, restaurants, shops, or houses.
In fact, in HEPA-equipped planes, air is pumped from the ceiling into the cabin at a speed of about a 1m² and siphoned out again below window seats. This creates a minimal crossover of airstreams similar to an operating theatre.
Around 60% of the cabin’s air is piped in fresh from outside the plane and the remaining 40% gets filtered through the HEPA system. This means that on average the air is fully changed every 3 minutes while cruising and it could be argued that the air in planes might well be cleaner than most other confined spaces.
Nevertheless, airline staff and passengers can influence the cleanliness of the air too. Besides the filters, staff and passengers can wear masks as their own personal filter because the air filtration system in the cabin won’t have maximum effect until the plain is fully airborne. So, the time between sitting down and take-off, and landing and disembarking, is the period in which passengers are most likely to inhale uncirculated or clean air.
The sensible option then, if you’re thinking of flying, is to take comfort in the filtration system but also take responsibility yourself and if possible, wear a mask.