At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and other experts to determine best practices for keeping our employees and customers safe at airports and on our aircraft.
In the months that followed, Delta partnered with experts at Mayo Clinic, Emory University, Lysol and Purell to roll out highly effective layers of protection including blocking middle seats, requiring masks onboard, a comprehensive employee testing program and an extensive cleaning regimen.
Now, numerous independent studies have validated the effectiveness of these measures, which together make up the industry-leading Delta CareStandard.
Here’s a look at some of the latest studies about the safety of air travel during the pandemic:
Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The most comprehensive research study to date, Harvard concluded that the layered approach Delta and most other U.S. airlines have taken to protect against the virus means the risk of transmission during air travel is very low.
"The risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard aircraft [is] below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out," the Harvard researchers concluded. "Implementing these layered risk mitigation strategies…requires passenger and airline compliance [but] will help to ensure that air travel is as safe or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times."
The report concludes that the universal use of face masks, diligent cleaning protocols and advanced ventilation and filtration systems offer significant protection against COVID-19, lowering the risk of transmission on an aircraft to minimal levels. Read the study
In an earlier technical bulletin that preceded Harvard’s final study, their experts suggested that the universal use of masks in settings such as those on aircraft may reduce infection risk from respiratory particles to less than 1 percent. Read the bulletin
International Air Transport Association
In 2020 there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey – most of those during the first months of the pandemic, reported IATA, a Geneva-based industry group. During that period about 1.2 billion passengers have traveled.
“The risk of a passenger contracting COVID-19 while onboard appears very low,” wrote Dr. David Powell, IATA’s Medical Advisor. “With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travelers, that’s one case for every 27 million travelers. We recognize that this may be an underestimate, but even if 90% of the cases were un-reported, 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.” Read IATA’s report
U.S. Department of Defense
Air on commercial airplanes is safer than the air circulating in homes or hospital operating rooms, according to a recent study conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The study attributed high air exchange rates, HEPA-filters and downward ventilation systems with a 99.7% reduction in the risk of coronavirus transmission through air onboard after testing two aircraft types. “The 767 and 777 both removed particulate 15 times faster than a home and five to six times faster than recommended design specifications for modern hospital operating or patient isolation rooms,” according to the report.
Delta’s focus on keeping the onboard air clean and safe is a key layer of protection. The air on Delta aircraft is completely refreshed 10 to 30 times per hour with outside air or air that has been recirculated through industrial-grade HEPA filters, which extract more than 99.99% of particles, including viruses. Read the report
RELATED: Read a complete look at all the steps Delta is taking to enhance safety onboard.