Delta's promise of onboard sanitizing stations isn't as simple as it sounds
If there's one U.S. carrier that's working to become synonymous with "clean" and "safe," it's Delta Air Lines.
Since the outset of the pandemic, Delta has adjusted the end-to-end travel journey to promote wellbeing and minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. The carrier is committed to blocking middle seats, cleaning and fogging planes at each turn and modifying inflight service — all in an effort to reassure passengers that it's safe to fly.
The carrier's latest move is a first for U.S. airlines. Beginning on Aug. 28, hand sanitizer stations will be installed near boarding doors and lavatories on every Delta aircraft. On the surface, this sounds like a great initiative, but let's look closer.
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The basics of Delta's clean lavatory promise
Perhaps one of the dirtiest places on an aircraft is the lavatory. After all, it's a small, shared space. Researchers recently found a case of asymptomatic coronavirus transmission that was traced to an aircraft lavatory.
That's why Delta's looking to innovate in lavatory cleanliness.
Installing hand sanitizer stations outside the lavatory is a welcome development. Washing your hands in a plane's restroom can be quite claustrophobic (especially on an American Airlines' Boeing 737), so another sanitization option is great.
However, not every Delta lavatory will feature a sanitizing station. There will be up to five stations per aircraft, broken down as follows:
- Four to five on widebodies, like the Airbus A330-900neo
- Three on larger narrowbodies, like the Boeing 757
- One to two on narrowbodies, like the Airbus A220
Delta's flagship Airbus A350 has eight lavatories, so nearly 40% of the plane's bathrooms won't have sanitizer directly outside of it. There are "banks" of lavatories on the A350 (and most other jets), but note that a good chunk of bathrooms won't have a dedicated sanitizing station.
These stations were designed in-house by Delta Flight Products. As with most things installed in aircraft, the FAA needs to approve the modification. Fortunately, Delta has already received final FAA approval to begin the installations.
In addition to onboard sanitizing stations, Delta fogs and disinfects lavatories before every flight. Additionally, flight attendants are asked to wipe down high touch surfaces throughout the flight.
Related: Everything you (never) wanted to know about airplane toilets
You might not see hand sanitizer for a while
Don't expect to see hand sanitizing stations on every Delta jet just yet. For one, you aren't going to see them on the airline's roughly 400 regional jets. Today's news only includes mainline Delta aircraft. Hopefully, the carrier will quickly expand to cover regional jets, too.
But even the mainline fleet isn't going to be outfitted immediately. Though the installation process begins today on the Boeing 757-200, the rollout will hopefully be complete by early 2021 — nearly a year into the pandemic.
Related: Why airlines work with regional carriers
But this initiative is here to stay
Because the rollout is expected to take roughly six months, I can't imagine Delta quickly removing the hand sanitizer stations once there's an effective therapy or vaccine for the coronavirus.
As such, expect the stations to be around for the foreseeable future. Since the outset of the pandemic, we've been focused on how travel is going to change post-virus. Well, you're looking at exhibit A.
Of course, it's possible other airlines decide to follow Delta's lead. Adding more sanitizing stations is a win-win for airlines and passengers, so perhaps this will really be the way of the future.
Related: Delta’s strategy of blocking the middle seat isn’t as simple as it seems
Delta reinforces that the safest airline to fly is... Delta
As part of the news, Delta also took the opportunity to remind people of all the other things they’re doing to keep lavatories clean. Since June, flight attendants have been asked to regularly check the restrooms, and wipe down surfaces every half hour, if possible.
Among other initiatives, Delta also highlighted that some of its jets feature hands-free flushing and sink dispensers.
Bill Lentsch, Delta's chief customer experience officer said it best. “[We're] mak[ing] sure customers feel safe and comfortable when they travel with Delta” [emphasis added].
Throughout the pandemic, Delta's story has been laser-focused on convincing you it’s safe to fly… with Delta. Between the blocked seats and enhanced cleaning procedures, Delta wants you to know that no other U.S. airline cares more about your health.
Installing hand sanitizing stations is just the latest chapter in Delta's pandemic story.