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Guests can continue flying Spirit Airlines with confidence thanks to a series of new scientific studies confirming the safety of air travel and the effectiveness of our Safe Travels initiative detailed on our main COVID-19 Information Center.

The Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI) is conducting research related to minimizing the public health risks of flying during the COVID-19 pandemic. APHI is a project of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which issued a report on October 27, 2020 outlining the group’s “phase one” analysis. Researchers found that airlines are successfully reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid 19) transmission onboard their aircraft to very low levels by using a combination of layered infection control measures.

APHI’s research corroborates similar studies released by United States Transportation Command, Airbus, a joint study by Boeing and the University of Arizona, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and others.

Safer than grocery shopping

People began focusing on concerns surrounding air travel during the earliest days of the pandemic. At Spirit, we immediately put together a task force devoted to finding the best ways to protect our Guests. We put aside competition and started talking with other airlines about what worked best for the travelling public. The industry quickly implemented upgraded cleaning procedures, invested in new technology for sanitizing planes and enforced policies designed to ensure safety.

Now we have the data to help you understand why all those changes were worth it—and how the safety of air travels stack up against your everyday activities. APHI’s researchers analyzed the combination of cleaning, mask enforcement and air filtration implemented by Spirit Airlines and the rest of the industry. Together, according to APHI, those strategies make the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission on an aircraft lower than the risk involved in other routine activities like grocery shopping and eating out.

What does the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health research mean to the airline industry?

The report said it best in the conclusion:

 “Though a formidable adversary, SARS-CoV-2 need not overwhelm society’s capacity to adapt and progress. It is possible to gain a measure of control and to develop strategies that mitigate spread of the disease while allowing a careful reopening of sectors of society.”

Researchers also emphasized that Guests play a key role in maintaining a safe environment. Spirit continues to enforce strict policies and follow enhanced protocols, but the industry needs the traveling public to do their part by not flying while sick, wearing appropriate face coverings throughout their travel experience, practicing proper hygiene, helping to maintain distance by not crowding aisles and jet bridges, and more.

The most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus on board

The APHI study found that “face masks without exhalation valves or vents or other openings are a critical element in preventing the spread of respiratory infectious diseases while traveling.” Researchers went on by saying “in fact, face mask requirements are perhaps the most essential layer of a comprehensive set of measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 throughout air travel.”

Their report provides these essential recommendations for travelers:

 

  • “Removing masks to eat or drink should be kept to an absolute minimum, in order to maintain the significant protections afforded by universal face mask wearing.”
  • “When one passenger briefly removes a mask to eat or drink, other passengers in close proximity should keep their masks on.”

Visit our Information Center to learn about Spirit’s strict policy and requirements for face coverings, which applies without exemption to everyone except for children under 2 years old.

Cabin-cleaning practices successfully remove contaminants from high touch surfaces

APHI researchers discovered “there is very low probability of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 via fomites in the aircraft cabin,” and recommended that airlines maintain enhanced cleaning protocols. With the word “fomites” referring to objects or materials that are likely to carry infection such as seats. In addition to our cleaning protocols at night and between flights, we use two EPA-registered fogging treatments to disinfect and protect our aircraft. The first applies a safe, high-grade disinfectant that’s effective against coronaviruses. The second uses an antimicrobial product that forms an invisible barrier on all surfaces that kills bacteria and viruses on contact for 30 days.

A new study by the University of Arizona further backed that up by intentionally contaminating touch points like tray tables and seatbacks within a test aircraft using live virus particles. Then the researchers cleaned the plane using industry-best products and procedures, tested for the presence of the virus, and found that it was successfully destroyed. Check out our Information Center for more details on our enhanced aircraft cabin cleaning protocols. 

Air filtration systems ensuring the highest levels of cabin air quality

Spirit Airlines has one of the youngest fleets in the country, equipped with the most technologically advanced High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration. The APHI study calls these ventilation systems “highly effective” and goes on to note that they “refresh cabin air on average every 2-3 minutes, filtering air through filters removing > 99% of particles of the size that cause SARS-CoV-2. Passengers and crewmembers breathe a combination of 50% filtered and 50% fresh outside air.”

The top-to-bottom airflow pattern pulls particles down to the floor, creating what amounts to a set of invisible barriers that take the place of physical distancing onboard. Spirit Airlines operates an all-Airbus fleet that is one of the youngest fleets in the country, and we encourage you to visit the Airbus Keep Trust in Air Travel page for information about ventilation. Airbus states "With air filtration systems ensuring the highest levels of cabin air quality, passengers and crew can rest assured that an aircraft cabin is one of the safest environments out there.”

Additional studies

Several groups have published their own independent studies with results mirroring what APHI found and further demonstrating the safety of air travel.

 
  • The United States Transportation Command, which is a major command in the Department of Defense, studied whether it's safe to fly on commercial airliners. Researchers simulated an infected passenger on a test aircraft by releasing particles in the air to determine the risk of exposure. The general in charge of the study stated that a “commercial airplane with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration is probably one of the safest places that you can be.”
 
  • A new study by Airbus conducted a three-dimensional computer simulation to understand how droplets and particles travel when a passenger coughs, sneezes or speaks. The study demonstrated that “significantly fewer particles emitted by a passenger in an airliner cabin reached the breathing zone of other passengers, compared with particles emitted in a typical commercial indoor space. It also demonstrated no increased particle exposure when seated directly beside another passenger” when all passengers and crew wear masks.


For more information about how we’re keeping our Guests and Team Members safe and what you can do to help, visit https://www.spirit.com/notices.