As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, airlines are turning to super-strength disinfectants to sanitise planes before flights.
Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong carrier that has been hit by cancellations into mainland China, is disinfecting plane surfaces after every single flight, including meal tables and armrests. Planes that carried passengers with coronavirus are given an additional deep clean and disinfection.
Qantas is using Viraclean, a disinfectant that kills everything from Hepatitis B to herpes. The Australian flag carrier is also removing headrests, pillow covers and blankets among other things after every flight.
Korean Air is similarly vigilant and is using MD-125 to disinfect its planes. The cleaning solution is able to kill off bacteria and viruses ranging from HIV to measles according to the company that makes it.
But if you want to be extra vigilant, there are precautions you can take yourself.
What’s the likelihood of catching coronavirus on a plane?
The risk of catching coronavirus through the air in the plane cabin is relatively low, unless you’re sitting right next to someone with the disease.
During the flight, the plane will draw in fresh air from the outside. It’s considered sterile as there are so few microorganisms at high altitude and it gets heated to over 250C according to a report by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Around 50 per cent of the air in cabins is recirculated, but this goes through air filters similar to ones used in surgical environments before it’s pumped back into the plane.
It means that if you’re going to catch a bug on a flight, it’s likely to be from contact with someone with the virus or from surfaces.
How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s not clear how long this version of coronavirus, known as Covid-19, survives on surfaces.
However, it appears to be behaving like other coronaviruses, which means it could survive anywhere between a few hours to several days.
Is there anything I can do to disinfect my plane seat?
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Airlines travelling to regions affected by coronavirus have stepped up their cleaning routine, which reduces the risks.
If you want to be extra careful, it’s worth bringing your own disinfectant wipes onboard with you – just make sure coronavirus is listed on the pack.
Kelly A. Reynolds, a professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, told The Points Guy: “Coronavirus is actually easy to kill.
“Studies have shown that disinfecting wipes and hand sanitisers can kill bacteria and viruses that are much more difficult to kill than coronavirus.
You will need to use the wipes on all the non-porous surfaces that your hands will come into contact with, such as the arm rest and tray table. Don’t forget the shades and walls if you’re sitting by the window – one of the best options for avoiding nasty bugs.
Make sure you read the instructions on your wipes as well, as in some cases, the surface you’re disinfecting will need to stay wet for several minutes while it gets to work.
Disinfecting upholstered seats can be harder, as the wipes won’t work on these surfaces. If you’re worried, you can pack a washable seat cover.
The most effective measure, though, is still to wash your hands frequently with water and soap or alcohol gel.
Coronavirus: What we know so far
Is it worth wearing face masks and gloves?
Face masks and gloves are probably not going to protect you onboard a flight.
Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses [infectious disease spread between humans and animals] at Public Health England, told The Independent that there is “very little evidence of a widespread benefit” in members of the public wearing masks.
There are a number of reasons for this.
He explained: “Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective.”
And most of the paper options being worn do not have a respirator to filter out infectious air particles.
If they are not worn properly and are loose fitting it means that bacteria can easily access the nose and mouth. Experts have also warned coronavirus could enter the body through the eyes.
Gloves are similarly ineffective as you will be touching all the same surfaces.
A spokesperson for PHE told The Independent: “PHE is not recommending the use of gloves as a protective measure against Covid-19 for the general public.
“People concerned about the transmission of infectious diseases should prioritise good personal, respiratory and hand hygiene.”