To determine the rate of infection and mortality rate among pilots, crews, and travelers, in order to have data to write an article about pilots as the canary in the coal mine for COVID-19.

Early Findings

Risk of Infection

  • Air India pilots are considered at risk of infection. According to a number of pilots, PPE provided is inadequate and there have been cases when quarantine has been violated, with possibly infected crew continuing to work.
  • COVID-19 does not spread faster in airplanes compared to elsewhere. Air is passed through a hospital-grade filtering system, meaning the risk of spread is no higher. The main concern comes to touching frequently touched areas.
  • Airlines have increased cleaning procedures. Airlines such as JetBlue and Delta are deep-cleaning their planes more thoroughly, which will help reduce spread.
  • Despite coming in contact with passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19, a number of flight attendants and pilots are being told to continue to fly unless displaying symptoms. SouthWest Airlines, American Airlines and Delta employees have all reported such policies.

Numbers Infected

  • In a study of a flight with 325 passengers and crew members, it appeared there was one carrier traveling from Wuhan who brought COVID-19 onto the flight. A further eleven passengers tested positive after the flight, but none needed intensive care units. None of the crew were infected.
  • In Canada, as of April 2, at least 14 flight attendants have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Estimates suggest that there could be at least 1000 employees of Air Canada who have needed to be quarantined, as of March 31.
  • As of March 31, WestJet has stated that seven of its employees have been infected with COVID-19. At Air Transat, over 200 employees are in quarantine and two pilots and five flight attendants have reported testing positive.
  • Hundreds of flight attendants and pilots have fallen ill and as of April 12, at least five have died from COVID-19.


Proposed next steps:

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In our early research, we were able to find some estimates for the number of flight attendants and pilots infected on various airlines. We propose continuing this research to find the number of flight attendants or pilots working at two or three of these airlines in order to triangulate the percentage of pilots or airline workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have entered quarantine.
Alternatively, we could find data on the infection and mortality rates for COVID-19 in general. This would allow a comparison to be drawn between infection in general and the case studies of transmission on flights with COVID-19 infections. We propose calculating the infection rate of the previously found study as well as finding the current infection and mortality rates for COVID-19, in order to compare case studies of a flight and of the general populace.