Would You Board A Flight With COVID-19 Symptoms?

It’s public health messaging we’ve heard for almost a year now: If you’re feeling unwell, stay home and don’t travel. Of course, that’s often easier said than done. According to a study conducted on behalf of the Welsh Government, a ‘significant proportion’ of survey participants would board an aircraft despite having symptoms.

Masks Brussels Airlines
21% of those surveyed said they would get on a plane despite having a cough, fever, or other potential coronavirus symptoms.  Photo: Getty Images

Survey results

According to The BBC, a study was conducted by the Technical Advisory Group on behalf of the Welsh Government, with participants surveyed by YouGov in October. This is how the 2,103 people surveyed responded when faced with an upcoming flight while presenting potential COVID-19 symptoms (cough, fever, etc.):

  • 21% said they would get on a plane. Of these, slightly more men said they would than women -while younger people were also more likely to be in this category as well.
  • 52% said they would not.
  • 27% did not know.

Additionally, 23% of those surveyed said they had previously boarded a flight while feeling ill.

Many airlines now have procedures in place to have travelers verify or self-declare that they are not feeling sick prior to travel. Photo: Getty Images

The human condition

The results of the survey make sense when considering all the factors that come into play before a flight.

Firstly, there would be the external factors that a potential traveler has to face:

  • A scarcity of flights (such as the limit imposed by the Australian government on international arrivals).
  • An upcoming travel ban or quarantine requirement (governments often only give a few days’ notice, leaving those abroad scrambling to get home).
  • These factors may be compounded by dwindling resources and the inability to afford accommodations at the present location.

Then, of course, there is the psychology of the traveler, which may persuade them to take the chance:

  • With mandatory masks and social distancing, the traveler may think it’s a low risk.
  • An important life event on the other side of the flight may intensify the desperation.

It’s likely that the results of the survey would be different depending on where in the world it was conducted, with certain cultures being more cautious and others more likely to take the risk.

Would You Board A Flight With COVID-19 Symptoms?
If faced with the inconvenience of changing travel plans, it may be more difficult to stay put and not carry on with an upcoming flight.

At least in many cases, airlines have made it much easier to reschedule a flight, having scrapped change and cancelation fees. While this may not remedy the above factors, it does eliminate one excuse for a person to board a flight while sick.

How concerning are the results?

The Welsh government’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), among other scientific bodies, states that there is “overwhelming evidence” that COVID-19 is spread by air travel. Indeed, TAG found evidence that one infected person in an aircraft could transmit the disease to other passengers throughout the cabin despite all the measures that have been put in place since the start of this crisis.

While transmission risk is greatly reduced by mandatory masks and emptier flights, visits to the lavatory and the removal of masks while eating or drinking onboard still present small windows of opportunity for the virus to move through the cabin.

What do you think of the survey’s results? Are you surprised or disappointed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.