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Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Airlines are trying to reassure customers the risk of being infected by the coronavirus on a flight is low because of their improved cleaning efforts and sophisticated cabin ventilation systems.

Why it matters: The airline industry can't recover until passengers feel it is safe to travel again.

The catch: If you're crammed into a seat next to a sick person — especially if they're not wearing a mask — the risk is higher.

How it works: The air on a plane is exchanged as frequently as 10 to 12 times per hour, writes Harvard public health professor Joseph Allen, author of "Healthy Buildings," in a Washington Post op-ed.

  • Air vents above passengers' heads push air downward, not sideways, to vents near the floor, which helps minimize infection from one passenger to another.
  • The air is cleaned using sophisticated HEPA filters that capture 99% of germs and viruses, then mixed with fresh air and recirculated every two to three minutes.

What to watch: New technologies being tested will make the ventilation systems even more effective.

  • Honeywell Aerospace, for instance, is developing cabin sensors that would detect buildups of carbon dioxide, indicating stagnant air.
  • This could occur, for example, during boarding, when people are crowding the aisles and exerting themselves.
  • "It's not dangerous, it's just an indicator of poor ventilation in this area," Honeywell's Tom Hart tells Axios.

Yes, but: Even with proper ventilation, on a crowded plane, it's difficult to avoid your neighbor breathing on you.

  • While some airlines are intentionally limiting bookings to allow for social distancing, some low-cost airlines are urging Transportation Department officials not to impose any capacity limits, including a requirement that airlines leave the middle seat vacant.

Go deeper

Airlines begin mass layoffs while clinging to hope for federal aid

Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

American Airlines and United Airlines said they will begin furloughing 32,000 employees Thursday, as federal aid that propped up the industry during the pandemic expires, with no deal in sight for an extension.

Why it matters: As many as 50,000 workers across the industry face immediate job losses unless lawmakers and the White House can agree on a broader pandemic-relief package that includes more federal aid for airlines.

Doomsday has arrived for tens of thousands of workers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Federal coronavirus aid for airlines expires on Thursday with no renewal in sight, meaning massive layoffs for the industry aren't far behind.

The big picture: Airline workers aren't alone on the unemployment line. Oil companies, tire manufacturers, book publishers and insurers are among those that have announced tens of thousands of layoffs. Federal aid through the CARES Act earlier this year delayed most layoffs — until now.

School principals are not OK

Principal Alice Hom (purple jacket) of New York's Yung Wing School P.S. 124 near a vaccination van in November. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The overwhelming majority of secondary school principals experienced frequent stress last school year, according to a RAND Corporation report out Wednesday.

The big picture: The stress levels among female principals and principals of color were especially stark, with nearly 40% in these groups reporting constant job-related stress, compared to about 24% of male principals and 26% of white principals.