Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Use of Carbon Dioxide Monitoring to Assess Ventilation During Travel

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Jennifer Cadnum
Heba Alhmidi
Curtis Donskey


Background: Travel poses a risk for transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and other respiratory viruses. Poorly ventilated indoor settings pose a particularly high risk for transmission.  

Methods:  We used carbon dioxide measurements to assess adequacy of ventilation during 5 trips that included air travel. During selected parts of each trip that involved indoor settings, we monitored carbon dioxide levels every 1 minute and recorded peak levels and the number of people present. Carbon dioxide readings above 800 parts per million (ppm) were considered an indicator of suboptimal ventilation.     

Results: Carbon dioxide levels remained below 800 ppm during train rides to and from the airport and inside airports except in a crowded boarding area with ~300 people present. Carbon dioxide levels exceeded 800 ppm inside the airplanes, but the air was filtered with high efficiency particulate air filters. Carbon dioxide levels remained below 800 ppm in common areas of a hotel but exceeded 800 ppm in a hotel room with 2 to 3 occupants and in a fitness center with 3 people exercising. In restaurants, carbon dioxide levels increased above 800 ppm during crowded conditions with 24 or more people present and 75% or more seat occupancy.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that ventilation may be sufficient to minimize the risk for airborne transmission in many situations during travel. However, ventilation may be suboptimal in some areas or under certain conditions such as in hotel rooms or when restaurants, fitness centers, or airplane boarding areas are crowded. There is a need for larger scale studies to assess the quality of ventilation in a wide range of community settings.  


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