How Close Is Too Close to a Sick Passenger on a Plane?

If you’ve ever worried about getting sick on a plane, you’re not the only one. But how close do you need to be seated to a sick passenger to get sick? A new Boeing-funded study has some answers:

“This model indicated that passengers at highest risk are those seated within a row of the sick passenger, or a seat or two to the side. These folks faced an 80% increased risk of catching whatever made the original passenger sick. But, ‘the risk to passengers seated outside of this perimeter was very low,’ under 3%,” said lead researcher Vicki Stover Hertzberg, director of Emory University’s Center for Data Science, in Atlanta.

Of course, the specific illness onboard and other factors affect your chances of getting sick, but in the story Hertzberg explains that the model “‘assumed an extraordinarily high infection rate…[Researchers] quadrupled the rate of infection observed in a plane that sat on a tarmac without any air circulation for nearly five hours — a worst-case scenario.'”

In the end, it seems you just have to hope you’re not seated close to someone sick, keep yourself hydrated and use the air vent above you. And if you see a sick passenger boarding your plane, remember that you’re not already doomed. To quote the takeaway at the end of the story: “‘This study tells us something we knew, which is that air filters on planes are about 95% effective,’ said Dr. Marc Siegel…a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. ‘You won’t get sick simply by being in the airplane.'”

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I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

1 Comment on "How Close Is Too Close to a Sick Passenger on a Plane?"

  1. A quick question regarding your article on the safe distance to maintain from a sick person on an airplane. Does wearing a paper mask, like they have available at hospitals, minimize your chances of getting sick from the recycled airborne contaminants on an airplane?

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