airplane in flight

U.S Airlines and America on Thin Ice with COVID-19

Short of living on a giant petri dish, you’ve be hard pressed to find a more ideal environment for the spread of germs than a pressurized airline cabin that hauls thousands of passengers each day. Knowing that the COVID-19 Coronavirus is highly contagious under normal circumstances, it may be virtually impossible for it NOT to spread on an airplane if one or more people have that virus.

Currently, the novel coronavirus is exhibiting a low mortality rate, but we now hear it may have mutated into a second strain. We have no idea if this could be worse than the first, but the airline executives are scrambling with 3 main challenges: 1) Calm public fears of flying. 2) Mitigate risk by improving sanitization efforts and boarding procedures that can help with social distancing. 3) Continue to make a profit and avoid the worst-case scenario.

And what is the worst-case scenario? Higher death tolls. Rapid spread. More unknowns. These are the game changers: A deadly pandemic would shut the airlines and the airports down. Any significant changes to the death rate, spread, or unknowns, creates an unfixable problem. The airlines become a health hazard. They elevate community spread. Business model fails.

Higher death rates with rapid community spread will not only shut down the airlines, it will shut down all modes of public transportation. The cascading effect of one sinister mutation that makes the next COVID-19 strain worse is very plausible, and if it happens now, the American people will be forced to quarantine in place. Given the worst-case scenario, not only will our transportation industries fail, but the supply chains fail, and the American people will fail too.

While the airlines scramble to mitigate risk, there’s only so much they can do. Worst-case – no options. Airplanes grounded. But what about our basic survival? What about our families? What about the ability for America to recover? We all know this risk is unmitigated and the American people can’t survive a sudden national lockdown. No reserves. No supply chains. Reliant on government alone.

Someday, sooner or later, we may have to lockdown the nation. We might have to stay in our homes to avoid mass contamination and spread. Whether a deadly pandemic, biowarfare, EMP, solar flare, or cyber warfare, our supply chains can get knocked out quickly and we need community reserves on hand. Stockpiling in response to panic is irresponsible and reckless. Sound, preventive measures that prepare us for the worst-case gives us hope for tomorrow, and strength for today.

As a former air carrier owner, I understand painfully well the dark challenges our U.S airlines face. In 2001, after September 11th, I went from the scheduled airlines to building an on-demand airline that serviced worldwide travel on executive jets. In 2008, I developed defensive measures to secure emergency air travel in the grid-down environment. Today, I am well aware of the difficulties we face as a result of covid-19 and our overconfidence on U.S supply chains. As a result of that experience, I developed a countermeasure platform called the Safe State Project. It is built for the loss of our critical infrastructures, to provide rudimentary safeguards of statewide community food reserves which is precisely what America needs to weather the storm of deadly pandemic. Mass quarantine in-place may be coming. Relying on government alone won’t work.  Better to do the unthinkable: Plan on voluntary self-quarantine in communities of like-minded people now. More information is available at

Realizing that most people are unable or unwilling to embrace Safe States survival communities, and choose to continue flying on commercial airlines, here are some six quick helpful tips:

  1. Knowing that all sorts of bacteria and viruses can live and spread from surfaces in the aircraft cabin, what makes it worse, the cabin air is recirculated and replenished many times per hour. Most commercial airliners have a HEPA filter system that works well to trap biological contaminates, but we still don’t know if it stops SARS and Covid-19 effectively. No definitive testing. We know covid-19 is considered transmittable at 6 feet. Original SARS was 2 feet. Commercial airlines have no social distancing built into the business plan, and they’re only profitable when the passenger cabin is full. So, again, wear a mask. With SARS, Air China Flight 112 gives us a good example. In a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing, it was discovered that one passenger in a middle row had SARS. 8 days later, 20 passengers and 2 Flight Attendants got infected. 5 died. Again, wear a mask.
  2. Most difficult vulnerability: Surface contamination along with coughing and sneezing. Experts say Covid-19 may remain on surfaces for several days. Airlines make money when they’re efficient. Fast turnarounds. They usually hire 3rd party cabin cleaners and they can only clean so much. No FAA regulations on cleaning/sanitizing, so we’re at the mercy of the last cleaning crew who are always in a rush. Bring hand sanitizer and use it.
  3. The CDC says pick a window seat and keep the overhead vents pointed away from you. Throw a feather up and see what happens. The CDC says… pick a window seat. As long as you’re 2 rows away from any potentially infected individual, and as long as your flight is less than 8 hours, you should be okay. As for the restroom, try to hold it.
  4. Elderly and those with compromised lungs should avoid travel altogether.
  5. Wash your hands. Wash/sanitize your hands. Don’t touch face. Clean/disinfect your seat area.
  6. Do your best to maintain “social distance”, wherever possible, while waiting to board, deplaning, etc.

Don Trumbull is an author and a former air carrier president and director of operations. Following a ten-year mission exploring the vulnerability of our U.S. air carriers/supply chains to the catastrophic threat of solar flare/electromagnetic pulse, in 2019 his broader findings inspired a civilian countermeasure system called the SAFE STATE Project. An achievable on-site defense for individuals, communities, and emergency services, the SAFE STATE countermeasure is a low-cost alternative to hardening the critical infrastructures.

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