The spread of Covid-19 on a Qantas Airways Ltd. flight in March showed people in window seats in the middle of the economy cabin had the greatest risk of contracting the virus, according to genome sequencing analysis of infected passengers.
At least eight, and probably as many as 11, passengers caught Covid-19 during the five-hour flight from Sydney to Perth on March 19, scientists from Western Australia wrote in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. Eleven people were infectious on the plane: almost all of them had disembarked the cruise-ship Ruby Princess in Sydney earlier that day.
In total, there were 243 passengers on board QF577, an Airbus A330.
While the infectious passengers were almost evenly split between the middle and the rear of the cabin, all 11 secondary infections were found in the middle of the aircraft in economy class, the study showed. Seven were also in window seats, contradicting the widely held view that such seats have a lower risk of pathogen exposure, the study said.
The findings are a blow to an airline industry trying to woo wary customers as domestic flights slowly come back around the world. Carriers have said the chances of catching the virus on an airplane are low, largely because aircraft are fitted with hospital-grade filters.
Most of the passengers who contracted Covid-19 on the Qantas flight were within two rows of infected travelers, although one was six rows away, the study said.
In a statement, Qantas said it had protocols in place at the time to handle people from infected cruise ships, but it didn’t know that some passengers had come from the Ruby Princess.
“Had we known, they would have been stopped from traveling,” Qantas Medical Director Ian Hosegood said in the statement.