Transmission of SARS-CoV 2 During Long-Haul Flight

Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 Nov;26(11):2617-2624. doi: 10.3201/eid2611.203299. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


To assess the role of in-flight transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), we investigated a cluster of cases among passengers on a 10-hour commercial flight. Affected persons were passengers, crew, and their close contacts. We traced 217 passengers and crew to their final destinations and interviewed, tested, and quarantined them. Among the 16 persons in whom SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected, 12 (75%) were passengers seated in business class along with the only symptomatic person (attack rate 62%). Seating proximity was strongly associated with increased infection risk (risk ratio 7.3, 95% CI 1.2-46.2). We found no strong evidence supporting alternative transmission scenarios. In-flight transmission that probably originated from 1 symptomatic passenger caused a large cluster of cases during a long flight. Guidelines for preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection among air passengers should consider individual passengers' risk for infection, the number of passengers traveling, and flight duration.

Keywords: 2019 novel coronavirus disease; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; air travel; aircraft; coronavirus disease; respiratory infections; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2; transmission; viruses; zoonoses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Travel*
  • Aircraft
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Contact Tracing / statistics & numerical data
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Quarantine / statistics & numerical data*
  • SARS-CoV-2