By summer's end, United Airlines plans to have FAA-approved high efficiency air filters installed throughout its fleet
Clean enough to breathe?
Debate over air quality aboard passenger jets reaches action point for one airline
May 19, 1998
Web posted at: 12:52 p.m. EST (1752 GMT)
From CNN Correspondent Dan Ronan
(CNN) -- With summer almost here, business travelers and vacationers will be sharing flights. But that may not be the only thing they'll share -- close quarters on an airplane have many concerned that germs aren't being filtered out.
"When air is recirculated, if it's not filtered, it increases the risk of transmission from person to person," says Dr. Steven Mostrow of the Rose Medical Center. "And this has been documented."
But others maintain there's nothing to worry about.
"Its absolutely safe," says David Fuscus of the Air Transport Association. "We've conducted studies in the past, and studies very clearly show that air on airplanes is good. It poses no health risk."
Either way, United Airlines is working to improve the quality of the air on its planes. By summer's end, the airline plans to install FAA-approved high efficiency particulate air filters throughout its fleet. Known as "HEPA" filters, they're said to block out airborne germs, bacteria and viruses that might otherwise be recirculated throughout the cabin.
"The air ... comes from the top of the cabin and comes out and is recirculated," said United medical director Dr. Gary Kohn. "Fifty percent of it goes overboard and 50 percent is recirculated through these
filters. Does that make a significant different to our passengers? We think it might."
United says HEPA filters produce 99.97 percent pure air -- cleaner than fresh air. Experts say they also increase humidity on flights, can decrease headaches, stuffiness, and fatigue and create a healthier traveling environment.
It's a start, says Patricia Friend of the Association of Flight Attendants.
"We still have a long way to go to make sure the air that we breathe when we're working and the air that you breathe when you're riding in the airplane doesn't make you sick," she says.
One suggestion: don't travel if you think you're contagious. Instead, work with the airline to reschedule your flight so everyone can breathe easier.
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