Five Things to Know About Air Quality During Your Flight

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••• Photo courtesy of Turkish Airlines

Edited by Benet Wilson

As a regular traveler, I'm always concerned about the quality of the air I'm breathing as I'm flying between cities. I'm an admitted germophobe, so I worry about illnesses being spread in the recycled air. But 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.

Below is my list of five things you really need to know about the airline air you're breathing.

1. Most aircraft have strong filter systems. With the exception of some smaller or much older aircraft, airplanes are equipped with True High Efficiency Particle Filters (True HEPA)/High-Efficiency Particle Filters (HEPA) filtration systems. And t he dirtier an HEPA filter gets, the more efficient it becomes, so it can easily handle the passenger load on a Boeing 747.

2.  Air recirculation 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.

3. HEPA filters catch a lot of stuff. According to IATA, "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."

3. That capture standard is pretty high. An HEPA filter's complete air change is better than most other forms of transportation and office buildings, and similar to the standard for hospitals.

4. Your risk of catching something airborne on a plane is low. The risk of contracting something like a cold or flu on a flight is lower than many other confined spaces because of the filters and air exchange - even though it may not seem to be the case, especially since cabin pressure can make a simple instance of the sniffles feel like a full-blown flu.

5.  Ventilation systems on planes are set up in zones. Ventilation zones on aircraft cover between seven and eight rows. So you're only sharing your breathing air with the passengers in your section.

Fresh to recycled air in a plane is 50-50 percent. Two things happen with recirculated air. Some is dumped overboard, while the remainder is pumped through HEPA air filters, which remove more than 99 percent of all contaminants, including bacteriologic agents. The oxygen percentage in a 50/50 cabin of a modern commercial aircraft that is at maximum load capacity will not drop below 20.5 percent.  So just remember to breathe easy on your next flight.