Now more than ever, the importance of clean air on a plane is a deciding factor in flying. If you have a reason to fly, but you’re not sure if it’s safe, knowing about airplane filters and cleaning schedules between flights might help put you at ease.
How clean is the air on airplanes?
In simple terms, the air you breathe on a plane is almost certainly cleaner than the stuff you’d be breathing indoors on land. It may not be as pure as getting out to nature, but it’s better than the air you breathe in cafes, cinemas or supermarkets.
This is down to the efficient air circulation systems and HEPA filters that are found on the majority of modern commercial flights.
According to the National Geographic, 40% of the cabin’s air is recycled through this system while 60% is taken from outside. On most planes, the air in the cabin is completely replaced every three minutes.
What does HEPA stand for?
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air and is a common type of filter used on planes.
What they do is essentially remove any impurities in the air, no matter how small. A NY Times report and a NASA study show that this includes the tiny COVID-19 microns.
In fact, in NASA research, HEPA filters remove impurities of that size with a 99.97% efficiency.
How does the HEPA airplane filter system work?
In the simplest terms, a HEPA filtration system is like a sieve.
When you’re baking, you might sift your flour to make sure that all the clumps and impurities don’t contaminate your cake.
HEPA filters are similar. They sift the air and block anything that shouldn’t be there. So potentially contagious air would go into the filter and clean air would come out. The impurities remain on the filter and need to be cleaned regularly.
Which airlines use HEPA air filtration systems onboard?
Most of the major airlines use HEPA filtration systems on their flights. While we can’t list all of them, here are some of the key names that do have HEPA onboard.
easyJet’s aircraft are fitted with state of art HEPA filtration technology, which filters 99.97% of airborne contaminants in the cabin, including viruses and bacteria. These filters are the same as those used in hospitals and the cabin air gets replaced every 3-4 minutes.
All Ryanair aircraft are fitted with hospital-standard HEPA air filters, as are Jet2 and British Airways planes.
How is the airplane cabin cleaned between flights?
In normal times, the cabin is given a simple clean. Rubbish is removed, surfaces are wiped down and the vacuum cleaner is brought out. Recently, things have been stepped up.
British Airways has boosted on-board hygiene by cleaning hard surfaces in the cabins and toilets with disinfectant fluids after every flight, while easyJet and Ryanair planes are subject to a daily disinfection process which reportedly protects from viruses for 24 hours. Ryanair passengers undergo a temperature check before boarding and all airlines encourage contactless technology (like online check-in and card-only payments on board) when possible.
On TUI flights, food and beverages must be pre-ordered and payments are cash-free, while British Airways and easyJet no longer offer in-flight refreshments.
What other precautions should I take while flying?
All airlines are encouraging passengers to wear masks on flights, with some making it mandatory (unless you’re eating or drinking). For most long haul flights, you will be provided with a mask but you may find it more comfortable to wear one that you’re familiar with.
Just like when you’re on the ground, you should wash and sanitise your hands regularly, keep at least one metre away from others and try to touch your face as little as possible.
Should you feel unwell in anyway, particularly if you have a cough and/or a fever, you should refrain from flying.
It’s also a good idea to check what precautions are in place when you arrive. Many countries have self-isolation or quarantine periods that you may need to stick to. If you’re only planning a short trip for business, this may make your time away untenable.
With a lot of uncertainty in the air about overseas travel at the moment, it’s always good to have some certainty in your life. Airplane filters and other measures brought in by the major airlines have actually made planes some of the safest places to be during the pandemic — but bear in mind that the risks are higher when travelling through airports and you need to keep an eye on government advice to make sure you’re travelling safely.
HEPA is High Efficiency Particulate Air. It’s a way to remove tiny particles (such as bacteria and viruses) from the air.
Yes. Airplanes are constantly bringing in fresh air from outside the cabin. On average, the entirety of the cabin’s air is replaced every three minutes.
Studies have shown that the dirtiest item on a plane tends to be the tray table. However, during the pandemic, airlines have increased their cleaning schedule between flights. If you’re still unsure, bring your own wipes and clean your table before use.
HEPA filters on airplanes have been shown to be 99.97% effective at removing virus particles the size of COVID-19.
Not every plane does, particularly among small aircraft, but modern planes used for long-haul flights should all have HEPA filters installed as standard.
Want to read more?
- Coronavirus travel advice: we’re continually keeping this page up-to-date regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19. So whether you need it now, or in the near future, it could be worth a bookmark.
- Coronavirus travel questions: Your COVID-19 queries answered. Are you dreaming about your next trip but still have many travel questions on your mind? To help, Skyscanner’s panel of experts has answered some of the most commonly asked COVID-19 queries. It’s important to have all the information you need to make the right decisions for you.
- Is it safe to travel? The world is slowly opening up again, but as many restrictions ease across the world, it’s not always easy to know what you can and can’t do.