Are you worried that, when boarding a commercial airplane, you're continuously breathing recirculated mucus and fecal particles left over from the fetid, gassy passengers on last night's red-eye? Well, put your germ-phobia at ease, because Patrick Smith, an active airline pilot and author over at “Ask The Pilot” gives the lowdown on airline cabin air quality.
WARNING: This might get gross.
Despite what some ill-informed, fearmongers might tell you about airplane cabins, Patrick Smith — an actual pilot with knowledge of commercial airplanes — insists that “in reality, the air is very clean.”
On his blog, Smith walks you through the typical airliner's ducts and vents to ease your fears that the previous occupants of the plane you're about to spend 11 hours on was rife with patients carrying SARS, COVID, or the Ebola.
Smith does admit that on the ground, the plane can sometimes take on a “pungent smell similar to the exhaust from an old car or bus” shortly after push-back. But it isn't airborne SARS or anything (or so he claims), it's just jet engine exhaust gases being blown into the air conditioning packs due to wind. As long as you don't light a match, you should be fine.
Like myself, Mr. Smith highly rates the new Boeing 787 (aka, the Dreamliner) for “the healthiest air of any commercial plane.” Its filters have an efficiency of 99.97% and a substantially higher cabin humidity. But that's not great protection against illness because you don't get sick from breathing the air on planes, you get sick from touching lavatory door handles, serving trays, armrests, or…hell, pretty much anything. Airplanes aren't disgusting, people are.
For a bunch of other horrible ways you get diseased on a plane, read Patrick's website or just buy his book.