United’s ditching 2 major COVID-19 modifications, including electrostatic spraying

Jul 12, 2021

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Traveling with United now feels a little bit more like “normal.”

Effective immediately, United no longer requires passengers to deplane in groups of five rows at a time. Over the weekend, the Chicago-based carrier dropped its last major modification to the passenger experience that it had originally implemented as an anti-coronavirus measure during the height of the pandemic.

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Originally, United implemented this policy “to reduce crowding” and promote social distancing throughout the deplaning process. Now, however, as vaccination rates increase nationwide and case numbers plummet, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health care agencies around the need for social distancing has shifted.

In a statement to TPG confirming the move, United said that:

The temporary deplaning process was implemented in combination with back-to-front boarding in order to promote social distancing on board the aircraft and in our gate hold rooms. United has proven the safety of our onboard experience – even when the plane is full – through enhanced cleaning procedures, on-board HEPA filtration and mask requirements, which makes front-to-back deplaning no longer necessary.

In addition to returning to the pre-pandemic deplaning process, United’s also shifting its onboard cleaning strategy. The carrier will stop electrostatically spraying its jets before every flight, and will instead apply a once-weekly Zoono antimicrobial surface treatment throughout its fleet.

United’s electrostatic spraying process has ended. (Photo by Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

During weekly overnight deep cleanings, United will deploy the NovaRover robot to apply a mist of the antimicrobial treatment that coats surfaces in a 12-foot radius with a single spray application.

When explaining the move to stop electrostatically spraying every jet before departure, United told TPG that:

Every week United protects all of its aircraft with the Zoono antimicrobial surface treatment. Zoono Microbe Shield creates a 24/7, ongoing protective barrier that kills microorganisms on surfaces throughout our aircraft. It creates a hostile environment for microorganisms to live on, and nearly eliminates the ability of that surface to transmit viruses including COVID-19. Zoono is EPA-registered, water-based and non-toxic. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, United has been an industry leader committed to delivering new and innovative solutions to ensure a safer onboard experience for its customers and employees.

For much for the pandemic, United also modified its boarding process, loading flyers from the back of the plane to the front. That change was scrapped in early April, following both JetBlue and Southwest returning to pre-pandemic boarding processes as well.

Only a handful of airlines, including Delta, JetBlue and United, asked passengers to deplane in small groups during the pandemic.

Deplaning a mid-pandemic JetBlue flight. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though I traveled with all the major airlines during the height of the pandemic, I found that United flight attendants were often the most vocal about enforcing the five-row deplaning process. On some flights, however, passengers ignored the request and crowded the aisle as if we were living in 2019.

Social distancing aside, some passengers might’ve appreciated the modified deplaning process. Instead of everyone getting up at once and playing musical chairs trying to shift around carry-on bags stored in the overhead bin, United’s pandemic-era deplaning process made for a calmer experience after touching down.

Other than the federal mask requirement, most of the COVID-19-era modifications to the travel experience have reverted back to “normal.” Inflight service is resuming, onboard sanitization isn’t done nearly as frequently and lounges are reopening.

And above all else, more and more travelers are taking to the skies once again. If you’re flying for the first time since the pandemic started, prepare for full airports and planes — and when you land, expect most travelers to get up at the same time once they see the seat belt sign turn off.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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