The Best Place To Sit On A Plane If You Want To Stay Healthy

In spite of pleas by the CDC asking us all to stay home for Thanksgiving, nearly 10 million people decided that seeing their loved ones outweighed the risk of COVID-19 exposure, and boarded flights (via Condé Nast Traveler). Many probably wondered if their seat location made any difference to their risk of infection. As it turns out, it did.

Travel by plane hasn't actually proven to be riskier than many other common activities. Paloma Beamer, associate professor of environmental health sciences at University of Arizona and president of the International Society of Exposure Science, told Insider, "It'd be the same risk if you went out grocery shopping — what are the odds you happen to be next to somebody in line with an infection?" Also, according to Healthline, there have been no reports of super-spreading of COVID-19 on flights, where many new infections have been traced back to one infected passenger.

The high-efficiency filtration and ventilation systems on planes are very good at minimizing airborne transmission of virus-infected droplets. The CDC has even posted on its website that the risk of virus transmission on airplanes is low. But still, it's impossible to get the risk-level down to zero. There are just too many other variables involved with travel.

A window seat is the healthiest place to sit on a plane, but it still has risks

William Bahnfleth, an architectural engineer at Penn State and chair of the Epidemic Task Force of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Engineers, told Wired, "You have to look at travel overall — the process, and all of the different risks associated with different parts of it. You may take public transit to get to the airport. You're in the airport and may have a hard time avoiding close contact with people. Crowds just go along with airports." High-touch areas like public bathrooms and handrails pose a risk, and security lines can get crowded, making social distancing difficult.

That being said, there is actually a "best" place to sit on a plane to minimize the risks — a window seat. Having a wall on the window side of your seat reduces the number of people around you who are within easy striking range of any airborne particles, and also reduces interaction with others who are moving about the cabin. Charles Gerba, a professor of virology at the University of Arizona who has also studied germs on planes, explains it this way to Insider: "Because people are walking by you in the aisle seat, it's shown in outbreaks and norovirus that people are more likely to get ill if they sit on the aisle because people are touching surfaces and walking by. So based on norovirus outbreaks, the window seat is better."