Harvard study: Masks, when worn throughout travel, offer significant protection from COVID-19

From Delta Air Lines:

Face masks are an essential part of a layered strategy to keep customers safe and reduce transmission of COVID-19 throughout air travel, according to a new technical bulletin published this week by faculty at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study’s conclusions reference recent research that suggests the universal use of masks in settings such as those on aircraft may reduce infection risk from respiratory particles to less than 1 percent.

“The use of face masks is critically important throughout the air travel process, from entering the airport for departure to leaving the destination airport,” according to the Harvard report. “When the use of masks is implemented with other measures built into aircraft operations, such as increased ventilation with HEPA filtration in the aircraft and disinfection of surfaces, these layered [interventions] offer significant protection from acquiring COVID-19 through air travel.”

Harvard’s bulletin – part of a set of evidence-based recommendations to reduce the public health risks of flying during the COVID-19 pandemic – also cites another report that describes two COVID-19-positive passengers who traveled on a 15-hour flight with 350 other passengers; both wore masks, and no one else on the flight was infected.

Delta was one of the first airlines to require customers and employees to wear a mask or face covering across Delta touchpoints at airports and onboard the aircraft. It’s an extension of our safety commitment, and enforcement is a responsibility we take seriously. We ask customers to acknowledge as part of the check-in process their willingness to wear a mask throughout travel. And we insist that customers who have an underlying condition that prevents them from wearing a mask complete a “Clearance-To-Fly” process upon arrival at the airport.

“There’s no doubt that wearing a face mask is one of the most important ways to stay safe in the airport and on board, and it’s why we were so quick to incorporate it into our approach to protecting our customers and employees,” said Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch. “Thanks for doing your part to stay safe and protect those around you.”

Delta has implemented layers of protection from check-in to baggage claim to deliver a new standard of cleanliness, more space and safer service and care for customers and employees alike. When added to measures such as sanitizing aircraft surfaces with electrostatic spray before 100% of flights, blocking middle seats while capping aircraft capacity, and changing aircraft HEPA filters twice as often as recommended, mask-wearing provides a consistent layer across all travel touch points that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Delta continues to make the necessary decision to ban customers who refuse to wear masks onboard. So far, more than 300 individuals have been barred from future Delta flights for failing to comply with this critical safety precaution.