The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has begun its worldwide spread just before the holiday season, and now the International Air Transport Association is saying that passengers are two to three times more likely to catch COVID-19 while flying as opposed to the previous Delta variant — but without any hard metrics, it’s hard to tell just how dangerous the variant can be.
IATA medical adviser David Powell has made some pretty powerful statements in a recent interview with Bloomberg. He has stated that the risk of Omicron is “two to three times greater” than it was with the Delta variant in all aspects of life, and he was therefore able to extrapolate that Omicron would also be equally risky on airplanes. He also hedges that airplanes may be slightly safer than other crowded environments due to medical-grade air filters.
In the brief interview, though, Powell doesn’t ofter any hard facts, such as statistics regarding the overall spread of Omicron, nor does he have data on the number of airline passengers infected by the virus’ variant.
The impact of Omicron overall is also not completely understood at this point in time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that the virus appears to spread more easily, infecting even people who have been fully vaccinated and boosted. Current vaccines are still expected to mitigate the impact of the virus, but Omicron appears to result in more breakthrough cases.
With that in mind, it’s reasonable for Powell to posit that air travel will present similar risks, but there currently aren’t numbers to back up his “two to three times more risky” claim — and we probably won’t have those numbers until after the holiday season has passed.
That said, it is likely that we’ll see a spike in cases. AAA is expecting to see air travel triple this year as opposed to 2020, and in the United States, Omicron now accounts for at least 70 percent of all COVID cases in the country due to the variant’s reported highly transmissible nature.
Powell advises that those traveling double down on safety protocols if they intend to travel. Mask up, wash your hands frequently, don’t touch things like tray tables or railings, avoid having your mask off at the same time as someone next to you if possible, and get your booster shot.