Lightning strike more likely than catching COVID-19 while flying - experts

Experts faced the media.
Experts faced the media. Photo credit: Getty

The risk of being struck by lightning while flying on a commercial airliner is much greater than the risk of catching COVID-19 when travelling commercially, according to the latest numbers released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

At a media briefing on Thursday, IATA's medical advisor Dr David Powell said it's believed just 44 of the 1.2 billion people who have flown so far this year had caught the virus during a flight, meaning the risk of transmission while on an aircraft about one in 27.3 million.

He said even if the number of infected passengers was 10 times higher than the reported 44, even then the risk of transmission would be around one in 2.73 million.

Dr Powell said the chances of an aircraft being struck by lightning is between one in 500,000 and one in 1.2 million.

Representatives from Boeing, Airbus and Embraer all provided results from their investigations into how droplets spread within an aircraft cabin.

"Being on an aircraft is safer than being six feet away on the ground," claimed Dr Powell.  

A Boeing representative claimed sitting right beside someone on a packed commercial airliner is just as safe as standing more than 2m away from someone on the street, thanks to modern air filters.

IATA says most of the 44 reported cases occurred before mask use was recommended or required.

At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed 1.07 million people internationally.