WestJet says COVID exposure risk during air travel can be lower than the grocery store
CALGARY -- Once the door to an aircraft is closed, it’s a sealed environment. And that can make it safer to be in than a grocery store, which has doors opening and closing continually with people going in and out, says Richard Bartrem, vice-president of corporate communications for WestJet.
By contrast, he says, passengers and crew on a plane take safety precautions to wear masks and use hand sanitizer — and the door isn’t opened again until the flight arrives at its destination.
“All the air onboard is recycled every two to three minutes with fresh air,” said Bartrem. “I think that speaks to just how safe it is to get on a plane. The question I think then becomes just getting more people to be comfortable with that.”
Bartrem says passengers on WestJet flights have turned out to be positive for COVID, but to date, no other passengers have become sick as a result.
“We’ve operated over 25,000 flights, we’ve had more than a million people travel since the outbreak of COVID and we’ve had no known transmissions,” said Bartrem.
Craig Jenne specializes in immunology and infectious disease at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary’s department of microbiology, and says he isn’t likely to fly any time soon because he doesn’t have to.
“The flight itself might have low viral transmission,” said Jenne. “But are you in an airport lounge for two hours? Did you take a taxi with other people? Did you take public transit? Just any time we put people together, even in a well-controlled indoor space, there is still risk and for some people there is the option to simply avoid that risk."
Those waiting for flights Friday at the Calgary International Airport say they feel safe flying with all the protocols in place.
Carl Berkman was working in Grand Prairie for a month and is returning home to Philadelphia.
“They seem like they’re extremely focused on the safety part of it which is fine,” said Berkman. “I haven’t heard of any outbreaks because of travelling, I think it's more of social gatherings at whatever you have so I feel pretty safe.”