Regarding Radiation From Air Travel

Last week VOX posted an article about radiation from air travel which caught some attention and immediately people started asking us for related data. For the past several years we’ve been logging radiation readings during flights so we have a significant amount of measurements relating specifically to this. We haven’t added these “flight” measurements to our official database or visualizations just yet as the current set up doesn’t handle the difference in altitude as well as we’d like and it would be too easy for someone to confuse a reading taken on a plane with a reading taken on the ground. That said – this visualization – shows a handful of such flight logs to give an idea.
Additionally, here are a few direct links to flight logs taken earlier this month which illustrate directly how quickly levels rise once a plane takes off and stabilize over the length of the flight.
The VOX article claims that the radiation exposure on a typical flight is “minuscule” and then provides charts suggesting that an infrequent flyer might be exposed to the equivalent of 8 dental X-rays, and a frequent flyer might hit the equivalent of more than 2 chest X-rays. As you can see from our data an air traveller can expect to be exposed to over 800 CPM for the bulk of just about any flight, and for comparison the global average in most cities is between 20-60 CPM. It’s not really totally straightforward to compare doses people get on flights that last several hours, and which are almost entirely from cosmic radiation, to what they get on the ground every day, whether from natural or man-made nuclides. But it’s worthwhile to compare the in-flight dose rates to some of the higher ambient doserate locations on our map, such as in Fukushima. Per Safecast policy we don’t comment on what might be considered safe or not, and think each person needs to decide what they consider “minuscule” in relation to their own differing exposure levels, but we also wanted to provide some concrete data that people could use to inform these discussions. As always, our primary visualization of readings we’ve taken at ground level can be found here and all Safecast data is provided under CC0 and free of any licensing restrictions.