Covid-19 Transmission Risk on US Domestic Airline

Covid-19 Transmission Risk on US Domestic Airlines

April 15, 2022

Arnie BarnettArnold Barnett, Sloan School of Management at MIT, presented Covid-19 Transmission Risk on US Domestic Airlines on April 15, 2022.

Abstract: Working with recent data and research findings, we estimate the probability that an air traveler in economy class would have contracted Covid-19 on a US domestic jet flight over the nine-month period June 2020 to February 2021. The estimates reflect published literature about actual Covid-19 transmission on pivotal flights, and take account of such variables as rates of confirmed Covid-19 infections in the US, flight duration, fraction of seats occupied, and some demographic differences between US air travelers and US citizens as a whole. The risk estimates range from 1 in 1,000 on a fully-loaded two hour flight to about 1 in 6,000 on a half-full flight when the pandemic was at a low ebb. We also estimate the level of transmission risk early in 2022, when most passengers are fully vaccination but the dominant strain of Covid-19 is far more contagious than the original strain. Moreover, we consider indirect effects that arose because those who contracted Covid-19 on US airplanes could in turn infect others.

Bio: Arnold Barnett is George Eastman Professor of Management Science and Professor of Statistics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He holds a BA in Physics from Columbia University and a PhD in Mathematics from MIT. Dr. Barnett’s research specialty is applied statistical analysis generally focused on problems of health and safety. Aviation safety is among his primary areas of application: he was described as “the nation’s leading expert” on aviation safety by NBC News, and he has received the President’s Citation from the Flight Safety Foundation for “truly outstanding contributions on behalf of safety.” He has worked for 16 airlines, six airports, the US Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Transportation Security Administration. Dr. Barnett has received the President’s Award for “outstanding contributions to the betterment of society” by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), and the Blackett Lectureship from the Operational Research Society of the UK.