Emptying the middle rows of planes could limit passenger exposure to coronavirus during flights by a third, suggests a study published Wednesday.
The results of the new CDC and Kansas State University study come after Delta became the last major airline to end the practice of emptying middle-row seats to physically keep passengers away, from the May 1.
“Research suggests that proximity to seats on planes is associated with an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” begins the study led by Watts Dietrich of the CDC.
However, the level of risk remains uncertain.
In the study, the researchers approximated the aerial dispersion of SARS-CoV-2 in airplane cabins with viruses that attack bacteria to simulate the coronavirus (these bacteriophages are harmless to humans). Similar modeling has been used to assess the risks of anthrax exposure in subways, for example, in the past.
Airplane simulations showed a 23% reduction in exposure for the closest scenario: a person separated from an infected passenger by an empty middle seat, compared to a person sitting right next to them .
For a simulation of three rows of airplane seats, the reduction in exposure was 57% for passengers separated from infected passengers by empty middle seats.
Overall, the study suggests that emptying the middle seats reduces the risk for all passengers by 35% to 39% on flights with one to three infected passengers.
It should be noted that the study only looked at exposure to viral particles, not actual transmission of the disease, where fully vaccinated people should be highly protected. The study also could not account for the effects of masks to further reduce the risk of exposure, the researchers noted, but they did cite some studies to suggest that the masks do not block all of the viral particles released under. aerosol form by infected passengers.
“Combining the effects of masking and distancing is more protective than either,” they concluded.
The CDC recommends that you do not fly until you are fully immunized and requires air travelers to wear masks when flying.