Pandemic safety and air travel – one year on

It has been about one year since the pandemic began to be felt at RDU Airport. Through the first two months of 2020, RDU continued to increase in travel volume, but that came to an end around March 1st of last year, culminating in a 96% drop in travel year-over-year at the height of the pandemic. Even now, traffic is down around 70-75% from the same period last year.

However, 75% down means 25% retained.

So at least some people are flying. Are they safe?

By all indications, they are.

In fact, they may be more safe than many other activities — perhaps including grocery shopping — according to some recent studies by Harvard and others.

To that point, American Airlines reports that the combination of the airflow pattern, forward facing seats, very high levels of filtration and rapid air exchange rate, create conditions equivalent to 7 to 15 feet of social distancing — even for adjacent seats.

To be clear:  while the chances of contracting a disease (coronavirus, influenza, etc.) appear to be comparatively low via flying, particularly with a face covering mandate, no form of travel can be made 100% risk free.

Then again, there is also a risk in not traveling by air — lost opportunities, lost connections, and lost time.

Everyone makes their choices on risks, costs, and benefits associated with travel like they do a host of daily business or personal decisions. I encourage you to consult a variety of sources — including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as well as RDU’s “Fly Confident” resources — as you, your employees, your colleagues, and your family consider whether to make an affirmative choice to travel by air in the weeks and months ahead, for business or leisure*. 


* On a personal note, while I do not have any immediate plans for business travel by air, today I booked a flight for my family to visit several national parks in the western US this summer.


Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation


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