Man on plane wearing mask and glasses

Why wear a mask on a plane

Why wear a mask on a plane? An article in traveller.com.au got us thinking… In the last two years we have been made very aware of the benefits of wearing a face mask during a pandemic. We have become accustomed to regulations about when and where to wear masks changing but not for air travel. The qantas website states the following:

“It is requirement by Federal, State and Territory governments to wear masks at airports and inflight. Your face mask needs to cover your mouth and nose, fit securely and must be worn unless you’re under 12 years of age or have a medical exemption.”

The article in traveller.com.au makes a point that face masks are pretty useless in a plane cabin. The virus, writes the reporter, against which you are wearing the mask, does not go to sleep while you eat and drink.

Chances of being exposed to Covid-19 on a flight where every passenger and crew member has tested negative within the last day or so is apparently less than 0.1 per cent, the writer continues.

Planes have hospital-grade HEP (high-efficiency particulate) filters which remove 99.97 per cent of airborne viruses and bacteria. Plus a plane’s air is changed more than 25 times in an hour. In fact, the writer states, hospitals are far more dangerous places when it comes to Covid than airplanes.

So does this writer have a point? A well-researched article in the Journal of Travel Medicine presents evidence that wearing masks is one strategy in avoiding the in-flight transmission of Covid-19. This article states clearly “The use of face masks has significantly reduced onboard transmission”. As well the writers have found digital health passports may “allow for a safer return to travel”.

For the foreseeable future as well as wearing masks onboard, minimising unmasked time while eating, sanitising hands, disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched, promoting safe distancing, limiting passenger movement around the cabin are recommended. Pre-flight screening and the ability to trace contacts are important parts of a multi-pronged approach – it appears that wearing a mask when travelling by air is here to stay for the time being.

If you would to know more this fact sheet from Harvard University is a good start.

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