Delta Airbus A330 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the Georgia Department of Health and Delta Air Lines

analyzed passenger data on Delta flights with pre-flight Covid testing between New York-JFK, Atlanta and Rome-Fiumicino. It found that the risk of exposure to Covid-19 on board an aircraft after all passengers tested negative 72 hours before the flight is less than 0.1 percent.

The study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that a single molecular Covid-19 test performed within 72 hours before departure can reduce the rate of actively infected individuals on board a commercial aircraft to a level significantly lower than infection rates in the working population. For example, when the average local infection rate was 1.1%, the infection rates on the flights tested came out at 0.05%.

“We’re going to be living with variants of the virus for some time. Governments can use this data in real life – not calculated on simulation models,” says Dr. Henry Ting, Director of Health for Delta.

According to the doctor, it could be used as a model for requiring vaccinations and testing. And replace quarantines with the reopening of borders to international travel.


risk of air travel varies depending on the case and vaccination rates at departure and destination. But also mask use and other factors. The data collected in this study show that routine use of a single molecular test 72 hours before travel for unvaccinated individuals significantly mitigates the risk of airplane exposure and transmission.”

The study began in December 2020 with the covid-19 testing program allowing quarantine-free entry into Italy. This allowed the teams to model various testing strategies. In particular on feasibility, false positive rates and case detection rates. The results of this study offer unique insights into the risk of exposure to the virus, on-board infection rates and the implementation of a testing protocol.

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“Combining the extremely low infection rate on board a tested flight, the different layers of protection on board (mandatory mask and air filtration), the risk of transmission is less than one in a million between the U.S. and the U.K.,” added Dr. Ting. “These numbers will improve further as vaccination rates increase and new cases decrease worldwide.”