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Is Your COVID-19 Risk Higher on an Airplane or In a Hotel Room?

travel bags and airplane in sky

Could you face a higher risk of contracting the novel Coronavirus on an aircraft, or at your favorite hotel? The Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force released a chart highlighting the highest risk activities, and flying was among the worst.

Flyers concerned about their risk of contracting COVID-19 aboard an airplane have reason to be worried, according to the latest data from the Texas Medical Association. The group published a risk chart noting “traveling by plane” was among several moderately-high risk activities for potentially catching the novel Coronavirus.

“Traveling by Plane” as Risky as Hugging, Eating Inside a Restaurant and Going to a Barber

The chart, created by a board of 14 doctors and one board-accredited epidemiologist, lists five categories of risk, ranging from low to high. At the low and moderately-low end of the COVID-19 risk chart are daily activities, like pumping gasoline, getting take-out food, and grocery shopping.

But traveling by airplane was among one of the “moderately-high” risk behaviors someone trying to avoid catching COVID-19 could take. Boarding a commercial aircraft ranked 7 out of 9, with the higher number reflecting the highest possible risk. Other items at the moderately-high risk category include hugging or shaking hands with friends (or strangers), attending a wedding, eating inside a restaurant, or going to a hair salon or barbershop.

The Texas Medical Association's COVID-19 risk chart. Courtesy: Texas Medical Association

The Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 risk chart. Courtesy: Texas Medical Association

But when it comes to other activities associated with travel, the risks of contracting the novel Coronavirus is somewhat lower. According to the doctors, going to a beach, shopping mall or swimming in a public pool provide a “moderate risk” of exposure, while staying at a hotel for two nights presents a moderate-low risk – the same as sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.

“The levels are based on input from the physician members of the task force and the committee,” reads a statement about the chart from the Texas Medical Association. “Who worked from the assumption that – no matter the activity – participants were taking as many safety precautions as they can.”

List Released After Airlines Make Masks Mandatory

The risk chart comes out as airlines and airports are working diligently to stop the spread of COVID-19 among flyers. All domestic carriers implemented mandatory face mask policies for flyers, and will force flyers to go through a health screening during the check-in process. Additionally, Los Angeles World Airports is working through a thermal camera screening trial for international travelers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

But some flyers are still refusing to wear a mask aboard airlines. Over the holiday weekend, USA Today confirmed a passenger was removed from a Spirit Airlines flight after they refused to use a face covering once onboard. A spokesperson for Spirit noted the passenger voluntarily deplaned, after police were called to handle the disruption. It is unclear if the flyer was allowed on a later flight.

Discuss your concerns with traveling today on the FlyerTalk Forums!

ncdave4life December 29, 2020

This list is missing some very high risk activities, which should be warned about: 1. Having a plumber or cleaning service in your home. 2. Riding a train, subway or bus.

c1ue July 16, 2020

This looks like more pseudo-statistical nonsense. There has been exactly one instance of in-airplane based superspreader COVID-19 transmission documented: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.28.20040097v1.full.pdf And note that nobody died or was even seriously ill. The US National Institutes of Health noted in April that there are zero instances of documented COVID-19 transmission aboard an airplane - the examples known are all people who shared contacts with infected COVID-19 people before they boarded (i.e. they got it from someone they knew on the ground): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162437/ I'm sure they exist since the disease traveled out of China, but it is notable that there are zero documented "superspreader" incidents involving air travel unlike say, choir groups.

SamirD July 10, 2020

Interesting results knowing what I know about how many doctors are Indian and how many invest in hotels...don't forget the money angle!

MikeInMass July 7, 2020

It is disappointing that the list was created, not from hard data, but from self-appointed "experts" making up rankings. It's also disappointing that there seems to be so little hard data available. But I'm afraid stoeuroflyer is mistaken when he says there are zero documented cases of people contracting the virus on a plane. They don't make the US mainstream media, but Taiwan, which has only had a few hundred cases and rigorously traces each and every one, has reported a bunch. The Taipei Times has coverage in English. Often they have been people who sit one row ahead or one row behind an infected person, but unfortunately I don't have hard data.

CO FF July 7, 2020

Zarkov555 - cite your source. Most of the anti-racism protests were majority masked (the one I was at in LA was 90%+ based on my observation), and all were outdoors. Compare that to bars & restaurants & private social gatherings over Memorial Day weekend... Also, most of the major protests were in cities, but not necessarily in those jurisdictions that have spikes now. Finally, if the protests were spreader events, then ANYTHING is a spreader - and we should all go to a true (European-style) lockdown...