How airlines are working to keep it clean amid coronavirus outbreak

Jul 25, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. 


As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Coronavirus is having an outsize effect on the airline industry. Demand is down as corporations cut back on business travel, and vacationers increasingly keep it local amid fears of catching the disease.

To allay some travelers’ fears, airlines are going out of their way to make sure their passengers know that the planes they’ll travel on are sufficiently cleaned.

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Different airlines have taken different approaches to getting this info out, but the message across the board is the same: our planes are sanitary!

Related: Everything you need to know about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.

However, a report from View From the Wing suggests that United Airlines may be having trouble following through all of its commitments on aircraft cleaning.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For example, the Chicago-based carrier is publicly saying as part of its CleanPlus program that all aircraft undergo electrostatic spraying before each departure. But the report states that such action is only taking place for planes stored overnight at its hubs and at bigger line stations.

What’s more problematic is that regional aircraft flown under the United Express brand are not following through with everything that the mainline places are doing, such as adopting procedural UVC cleaning standards.

Like all other carriers, United faces a cash crunch that threatens the jobs of 36,000 employees. Part of those job cuts will come from those leading the cleaning initiatives,  CEO Scott Kirby publicly stating that he will encourage his team to “explore and implement new ideas, new technologies, new policies and new procedures.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian stated that a traveler’s perception of safety at the airport and in-flight will drive travel demand more than anything else. Backing up his statement are the practices and procedures Delta continues to put in place to keep passengers safe, from the the time you check-in until you’re on your final walk out of the airport.

Related: We got an inside look at how Delta is cleaning planes between every flight

American Airlines now requires all flight attendants and passengers to wear face masks and hand them out to passengers as needed. The airline is also handing out sanitizing wipes to passengers where available, and will be deep cleaning between flights, including the use of strong disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Tray tables, handles, seatbelt buckles, armrests, seatback screens, overhead bins, window shades, and other surfaces will get disinfected. Plus the airline expanded fogging with an EPA-registered hospital-grade disinfectant in all public areas on aircraft.

For Alaska Airlines, that meant posting a detailed video about how planes are cleaned between flights and overnight.

Southwest took a similar approach, posting a video on its website along with a written guide to its sanitation procedures.

United, American and Delta have all released statements outlining their cleaning procedures, with all three noting that they’re adhering to updated guidance on airplane sanitation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have also implemented policies mandating that all passengers wear masks aboard aircraft.

Related: American Airlines, Southwest now overtake Delta for the strictest mask policy in the US

International airlines, too, have taken steps to assure travelers of their cleanliness during the outbreak.

Meanwhile, airlines are embracing a PR strategy that highlights cleanliness and a focus on public health by instituting mandatory mask policies. In addition, they are highlighting flexible waivers and cancellations policies to encourage travelers to fly again.

Related: Why we need a mask mandate

Additional reporting by Brian Kim

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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