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

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

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!

View Comments (16)


  1. glob99

    July 6, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    The chance of infection depends on the number of people you encounter and the length of time in contact.

  2. zarkov505

    July 6, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    I observe that they do not include participating in mass shoulder-to-shoulder political protests anywhere in that table.

    At least one researcher has looked at case spike timing and seems to have shown that they correlate very well with the protests.

  3. sam737

    July 7, 2020 at 4:26 am

    sitting in a doctor’s waiting room is less risky than going to a beach?
    this risk chart is nonsense.

  4. pony_trekker

    July 7, 2020 at 5:36 am

    Oh yeah, sure, the airlines are requiring face masks. Says no one who has ridden a plane in the past three months. Once you get on board it’s like the wild, wild west.

  5. macssam

    July 7, 2020 at 5:41 am

    ready MSM BS is the highest risk

  6. MichaelJMcFadden

    July 7, 2020 at 7:04 am

    I’m not particularly surprised about the plane. I warned about it in my 2003 “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

    “Without the marker of tobacco smoke, the customer cannot easily determine whether a healthy level of fresh air is being circulated ,,,the true air quality in restaurants and airplanes may well have gone down since smoking bans appeared. … the first time Consumers Union Reports devoted a cover story to the problem of “What’s Happened To Airplane Air?” was several years after total airline smoking bans went into effect (Consumer Reports 08/94). A 1989 D.O.T study found… risks from secondary smoke on smoking flights were about 1/1000th,,, the risks due to increased cosmic radiation exposure on ordinary high altitude flights. Passengers are routinely assured that flying is safe, and yet the risk from cosmic radiation while flying is 1,000 times greater than the risks from the secondary smoke they are advised to be afraid of.

    This reduction in fresh air is not a vindictive act in any sense, merely a normal response to an opportunity for financial savings: fresh air at high altitudes costs money… and without smoke in the air the health risks are effectively invisible.

    The increased health risks of epidemic diseases spreading in the confined and now heavily recirculated air of our planes will never be apparent until a disaster occurs… and by then it will be too late. The worldwide spread of an airborne infectious disease may someday be laid at the doorstep of the Great American Antismoking Crusade. An airborne Ebola, antibiotic-resistant pneumonia, or bio-terror horror could be the final legacy of those trying to save us from ourselves.”

    At least with hotels you can find one that sill allows smoking and is likely to have the ventilation systems installed and cranked up to handle it for the comfort of nonsmoking patrons. In smoke-banned venues you never have any idea at all what’s out there that you’re breathing in.

    – MJM, aka Cassandra, unfortunately.

  7. KRSW

    July 7, 2020 at 7:27 am

    @zarkov505, @sam737 — I completely agree. This list seems completely arbitrary at best. The doctor’s waiting room should be VERY high on the list considering some 20% of COVID cases in the UK were *acquired* at medical facilities. I would also rate pumping gasoline higher given the high number of people who are touching the rubber gas pump covers and how grungy they usually are.

    I’m not sure how going to the beach scores anywhere on this. You’re outdoors, tons of heat & sun (UV light), fresh air, hot sand, salt water, etc.

  8. flyingtall

    July 7, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Opinions in comments so far indicate no level of subject expertise or relevant educational background in medicine, statistics or biology, all of which are the only knowledge that matters in this case. The opinions above could have been uttered by 5-year olds. Would anyone pay attention to them then? And we wonder why the US is in the condition it is relative to the rest of the world.

  9. OMSHH

    July 7, 2020 at 8:59 am

    “… Other items at the moderately-high risk category include hugging or shaking hands with friends…”…

    How about hugging or shaking hands with strangers?

  10. Dougg

    July 7, 2020 at 8:59 am

    This is silly. Since Las Vegas re-opened the casinos The rate at which the virus is spreading is far greater than the profits the casinos are making. They should do a comparison of the chances of dying from Covid vs. being placed in a police choke hold after being handcuffed for not wearing a mask.

  11. sfoeuroflyer

    July 7, 2020 at 9:19 am

    There is a real problem with this list…..lack of science. The list has been created out of peoples’ imaginations. Example: there are zero documented cases of people contracting the virus on an airplane. So what is the basis for putting it on the risky side of the list. What about the effect of the constantly filtered air in a plane? Zero studies. Enough of phony prognostications. Haven’t we had enough of those?

  12. Joe Cortez

    July 7, 2020 at 11:15 am

    I mean…I generally don’t hug strangers. But you aren’t wrong.

  13. CO FF

    July 7, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    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…

  14. MikeInMass

    July 7, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    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.

  15. SamirD

    July 10, 2020 at 4:27 pm

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

  16. c1ue

    July 16, 2020 at 9:49 am

    This looks like more pseudo-statistical nonsense.
    There has been exactly one instance of in-airplane based superspreader COVID-19 transmission documented:
    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):
    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.

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