Delta will test all of its staff for coronavirus in effort to improve safety

Jun 11, 2020

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Delta Air Lines will begin rolling out COVID-19 tests for all of its staff in the coming weeks as it looks further raise confidence in travel among flyers.

In the latest of what the Atlanta-based carrier calls “layers of protection” from the coronavirus, CEO Ed Bastian told staff in a memo on Thursday that companywide testing will begin during the week of June 15. Tests will initially be available at Delta’s Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) hub before expanding to its hubs in Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and the New York area.

“As the economy begins to recover and travel demand rises, we know that ongoing COVID testing is going to be another critical component in your safety,” he said. “A full testing protocol… will be essential as we protect your health and begin the return to normal operations.”

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The COVID-19 testing for staff comes on top of the added cleaning and other procedures already in place at Delta. The airline disinfects its aircraft before every flight, staff and travelers are required to wear masks onboard. Delta also is capping the number of people that can sit in first class cabins at 50% and economy cabins at 60% through the end of September.

Delta counted nearly 90,000 employees around the world prior at the time the coronavirus pandemic began to spread to the U.S.

News of the employee coronavirus testing comes a day after Delta unveiled plans to create a new global cleanliness division. The department is charged with developing and executing everything related to keeping planes and facilities clean and safe.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our colleagues and our customers,” Mike Medeiros, Delta’s new head of global cleanliness, said in a statement.

Related: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats, requiring masks?

The latest coronavirus safety initiatives come as Delta and other airlines see an uptick in travel. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened a new post-COVID peak of 441,255 people on Sunday, June 7. However, the number remains just around 17% of those screened on the same day a year ago.

Concerns around exposure to COVID-19 remain even as travelers trickle back onto planes. While every airline has doubled down on aircraft cleanliness, some like Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are rolling out health questionnaires for each passenger before they fly. Travelers may have to postpone their trips if their answers suggest possible infection.

However, most in the airline industry doubt that travel will return to “normal” — or what it was like prior to the pandemic — until there is a vaccine, or at least an effective treatment for the virus.

Related: Delta CEO raises prospect of ‘immunity passports’ for air travel

For now, Delta has already adding back some of the flights it cut this summer. While schedules are only relatively final through July, the airline will fly about 23% of what it flew in the U.S. domestic market a year ago in June and nearly 40% in July, according to Cirium schedule data.

The carrier has already returned around 46 jets to service and plans to bring another 74 out of storage next month to support its expanded schedule.

Despite this increase in demand, Bastian told the Business Travel Network earlier in June that Delta will keep its artificial seating caps in place until it sees greater “consumer confidence” in flying.

Related: American and Delta reactivate 300 planes as summer travel plans get a boost

Featured image by Alberto Riva/TPG.

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