You're More Likely to Get Struck by Lightning than Contract COVID-19 on a Plane

Flying is one of the safest modes of transportation today

Portrait of a Latin American Woman traveling by plane wearing a facemask during the COVID-19 pandemic
Hispanolistic / Getty Images

We've all heard that you're more likely to get into a car crash than a plane crash, and whether or not that quells any fears you might have about flying, it is statistically true.

Now there's a new stat in town to help alleviate any anxiety you might feel about flying during the pandemic. Per a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to contract coronavirus while you're on a flight.

“The risk of a passenger contracting COVID-19 while onboard appears very low. With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travelers, that’s one case for every 27 million travelers," Dr. David Powell, IATA’s medical advisor, said in a statement. "We recognize that this may be an underestimate but even if 90 percent of the cases were unreported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travelers. We think these figures are extremely reassuring. Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread."

For comparison, according to the CDC, the odds of getting struck by lightning are one in 500,000.

One likely reason for the low transmission rates is that planes are designed to provide clean, fresh air in the cabins. A joint study by plane manufacturers Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer found that between the High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters found onboard most planes, standard airflow systems that have high rates of air exchange (airplanes replace the air in cabins every three minutes on average), and the airflow patterns in cabins (air flows from top to bottom, not front to back), any contaminants in the air are not likely to spread between passengers.

Beyond that, the wearing of masks and stringent cleaning measures are also aiding in minimizing the spread of the virus on planes.

"There is no single silver-bullet measure that will enable us to live and travel safely in the age of COVID-19," Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said in a statement. "But the combination of measures that are being put in place is reassuring travelers the world over that COVID-19 has not defeated their freedom to fly."

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