January 25, 2021
The Civil Aviation Administration of China issued updated documentation for the local airline industry a...

  • The Civil Aviation Administration of China issued updated documentation for the local airline industry a few weeks ago. It details the best health practices for avoiding a coronavirus infection on airplanes.
  • In addition to the usual health measures expected for the industry during the pandemic, the guidelines include a strange recommendation that doesn’t have an immediate explanation.
  • The document advises flight attendants to wear diapers to avoid using the lavatories.

We’re witnessing the worst part of the coronavirus pandemic, just as vaccines are about to be used in Western countries, including the US and Europe. The numbers for daily infections and deaths are hitting new record highs in America, with more than 100,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The worse is yet to come as health experts worry that Thanksgiving and Christmas will fuel bigger surges.

As more people travel during the holidays, and as families tend to congregate indoors during the winter, the risk of infection rises dramatically. There are ways to minimize exposure, but no public health measure will deliver 100% protection. The more people are infected in a community, the higher the risk for everyone else is. As all of that is happening, China made one of the strangest recommendations so far.


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The move targets a specific set of essential workers, flight attendants who are exposed to travelers because of the nature of their job. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released new guidelines for the Chinese airline industry on November 25th, CNN Travel reports.

The document is called Technical Guidelines for Epidemic Prevention and Control for Airlines, Sixth Edition, and contains the latest advice about best practices on aircraft and airports. Among the various personal protection recommendations, CAAC now advises flight attendants to wear diapers to avoid using the bathroom.

The personnel flight to and from high-risk countries should wear “medical masks, double-layer disposable medical gloves, goggles, disposable hats, disposable protective clothing, and disposable shoe covers.”

“It is recommended that cabin crew members wear disposable diapers and avoid using the lavatories barring special circumstances to avoid infection risks,” the document says.

It’s unclear why China is making this recommendation at this time. The country may be looking to prevent the virus from returning to China now that the West is facing massive outbreaks.

Airplane travel is a much safer experience than initially believed if everyone on board wears face masks at all times. But risks remain. There were studies that showed that airplane lavatories might be a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission. CNN cites a case where a woman traveled from Italy to South Korea and contracted COVID-19 after a visit to the bathroom, the only place where she didn’t wear a mask.

Other studies have shown that bathrooms, in general, can be a risk factor for coronavirus transmission. Traces of the virus can be found in the stool, which can lead to the formation of aerosols that can be infectious as the toilet is flushed. But these things were known many months ago and apply to any type of bathroom.

Airplane lavatories are also much smaller than regular bathrooms. Someone infected sneezing or coughing while using it would not just contaminate surfaces, but also the air. The next person could run the risk of infection by inhaling particles from the previous occupant.

But if China thinks flight attendants should not risk using the bathroom during flights, regular travelers might think bathrooms aren’t safe.

Avoiding the bathroom might be a good idea for passengers on shorter flights. And one should never take off the mask once inside. Avoiding surfaces is also advised, and you should wash your hands thoroughly. Throw in extra sanitizer once you’re back in your seat.

But while travelers might have the luxury of getting off the plane in just a few hours, cabin crew might be making at least one round trip, so they won’t be able to search for a better bathroom than the one onboard the aircraft.

CNN notes that airlines are already working on improving the safety of airplane bathrooms. Japan’s ANA is testing a hands-free lavatory door, while Boeing is looking to equip bathrooms with UV light that would kill 99.9% of germs after each use.

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