How safe is the aircraft cabin environment?

July 28, 2020

We received the below communication from Jake Cefolia, Senior Vice President Worldwide Sales for United Airlines.  We think it is well worth a read and a viewing of the video.


Today I’d like to talk about onboard air flow and filtration. If you’re like me, you never gave it a second thought pre-coronavirus, but today it stands as a key reason why air travel is uniquely safer. My key point is this: the air onboard a plane is significantly cleaner than what you typically experience in restaurants, grocery stores, schools or even some hospitals.

On our aircraft, fresh air flows downward from ceiling vents and exits the cabin at the floor and sidewalls. That air is then routed through HEPA filters (which remove 99.97% of particles like viruses and bacteria) and mixed with fresh, outside air before returning back to the cabin. According to Boeing , that top-to bottom pattern, and frequent air exchange helps minimize front-to-back air movement and reduces the potential for spread of contaminants from people, such as through sneezing or coughing. The system replaces cabin air every 2-3 minutes by providing 50% HEPA filtered, recirculated air mixed with 50% fresh outside air.

We will now maximize air flow volume for all mainline aircraft HEPA filtration systems during the entire boarding and deplaning process, helping further reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. Because the air flow minimizes the transmission of disease, the earlier we maximize it over our HEPA filtration system, the better for our crew and our customers. See how it works in the video below: 

And this brings us back to face coverings. When worn properly, face coverings prevent particles from one passenger's respiratory system from getting into the air and then potentially infecting others. Last week, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that if everyone in the United States chose to wear a mask regularly, we could bring COVID-19 under control in four to eight weeks . That’s a powerful statement, and we are taking actions that are proven to slow the pandemic. We’re also prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew.

We already require face coverings onboard our aircraft, and effective July 24, will expand the mandatory mask requirement to include our gates and terminals. We’re also limiting exceptions to the policy: only children under the age of two are exempt. We’ve also clarified our employee mask policy – all employees are required to wear a face covering in public areas or in restricted areas where social distancing is not possible. If an employee violates this policy, they are subject to discipline up to and including termination.