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COVID-19: How U.S. Carriers Are Working to Protect Travelers

The safety of passengers and employees is the top priority of U.S. airlines. Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, carriers have been working closely with Congress, the Administration and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Airlines are following – or exceeding – guidance from the CDC to help contain and stop the spread of COVID-19. Each of the below carriers have enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting procedures, including using High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to clean the air.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has increased its cleaning procedures between flights and utilizing disinfectants that are effective against viruses in addition to regularly scheduled cleanings. An enhanced aircraft cleaning process has been implemented for flights on the ground longer than an hour at Alaska hubs, and flights that remain overnight receive additional cleaning. Frequently touched surfaces such as arm rests, seat belts, tray tables, overhead controls, light buttons and door handles also receive additional treatment. Alaska has implemented seat restrictions to facilitate social distancing, reduced food and drink service and suspended warm towel and blanket service in flight. Onboard recycling has been suspended in order to reduce touchpoints, and hand sanitizer has been deployed to airports and company offices for use in break rooms, lounges, ticket counters and gates.

American Airlines

American’s aircraft are cleaned at key touchpoints throughout the day with disinfectant, and all aircraft undergo a deep cleaning procedure on a regularly scheduled basis. International flights and aircraft with additional time on the ground receive a detailed 30-point cleaning package each day, and the airline is enhancing cleaning procedures on international flights and aircraft that remain overnight at airports. Cleaning processes have been expanded to additional fogging procedures to disinfect hard and soft surface areas in public areas. American is building on its comprehensive cleaning program and will implement enhanced cleaning procedures used during longer stops to every mainline flight beginning early May. New measures will include utilizing an EPA-approved disinfectant on customer areas, such as seatbelt buckles, armrests and window shades, and in team member areas, including jump-seats and crew rest seats.  In order to practice social distancing, seating policy has been relaxed on most flights — 50% of all standard middle seats will be blocked — and there will be reduced food and beverage options. Increased hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes will be available for crewmembers and customers. Additionally, masks are required for flight attendants on mainline and regional flights starting May 1. American will also begin distributing face masks to all customers as supplies allow.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has expanded its cleaning procedures to include aircraft fogging with an EPA-registered disinfectant on all domestic aircraft sitting on the ground longer than four hours as a part of Delta Clean, an elevated standard of cleaning measures. Additionally, all common surface areas in galleys and lavatories are cleaned with an approved disinfectant. Spot checks are also conducted by a Customer Service Agent and Flight Leader to ensure the aircraft meets the Delta Clean standard. Every aircraft is cleaned using the extensive checklist for overnight cleanings, which disinfects high-touch areas, such as seatback entertainment screens, seat-back pockets and tray tables, and all non-essential items have been removed from the seat pockets. Additionally, airport kiosks are disinfected multiple times a day, and Delta has increased the cleaning schedule of gate areas. Delta is also initiating a new back-to-front boarding process in order to reduce contact between passengers. Middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select have been blocked in order to enable social distancing, along with streamlined food and beverage service with a standard clear bag with snacks and water to reduce person-to-person contact. Hand sanitizer is also available at ticket counters, boarding gates, Need Help Centers, Baggage Service Offices and Sky Clubs for all employees and customers. Employees who come within six feet of customers or employees will be required to wear face coverings, and masks will be offered to passengers as an expanded safety measure.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian follows detailed protocol for cleaning aircraft between flights, overnight and event-driven disinfection cleaning. Frequently touched areas including seats, seatbacks, headrests and in-flight entertainment monitors receive additional attention. Aircraft are disinfected after each transpacific flight, and interisland aircraft are cleaned after every flight into Honolulu and disinfected nightly. Hand sanitizer is broadly available throughout Hawaiian’s airport lobbies and offices, and counters and self-service kiosks are wiped down frequently. Additionally, disposable sanitizing wipes are available, and staggered seating has been implemented to maintain distance between guests.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue has increased aircraft cleaning each night and are utilizing disinfectant that is effective against coronavirus across frequently touched surfaces, such as tray tables, seat covers, armrests and seatbelts. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are widely available throughout terminals as well as on board flights, and common surface areas are disinfected frequently. Additionally, crewmembers are proactively reviewing seat assignments to ensure as much personal space as possible between passengers, and buffer zones have been created around crewmember jump seats for added safety. Food and beverage service have been limited, and hot towel service has been suspended. As a precautionary measure, all crewmembers are required to wear face coverings while working, and customers will be required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth starting May 4.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest aircraft receive more than six hours of cleaning every night. Technicians use an EPA-approved, hospital grade disinfectant on touchpoints throughout the passenger cabin, such as seatbelt buckles, touch buttons, seat surfaces, tray tables and armrests. Southwest also has implemented electrostatic sprayers for aircraft cleaning on all overnight stops with expansions to treat the full fleet. The electrostatic solution utilizes a disinfection agent and antimicrobial cleaner to reach surfaces humans hands are unable to reach. These two videos highlight Southwest’s enhanced cleaning. In order to limit close interaction, all on-board beverage and snack services have been suspended, except for water.

United Airlines

United aircraft are cleaned at various touchpoints throughout the day. Any hard surface touched by customers and employees—including lavatories, galleys, tray tables, window shades and armrests—receive a thorough wipe-down with a high-grade disinfectant and multi-purpose cleaner. If an employee or customer is exhibiting potential coronavirus symptoms, the aircraft is taken out of service and sent through a full decontamination process. United has implemented electrostatic spraying on all inbound long-haul international flights and mainline overnight aircraft and will expand it to all departures beginning June. In airports, signage will encourage social distancing between customers and employees, including a six-foot tape rule at ticket counters and sneeze guards and key interaction points. Additionally, food service has been adjusted to minimize touchpoints and boarding will be done back-to-front by row in order to promote social distancing. Seats will be limited in all cabins, along with the middle seat blocked off, as well as fewer customers boarded at a time to allow for more distance. Customer service representatives also will proactively re-seat customers in order to practice social distancing, and in-flight service has been adjusted to limit person-to-person interaction. As an added measure of protection, flight attendants are required to wear a face covering, and masks will be made available to customers starting in early May.

Individuals are encouraged to listen to medical experts and heed their guidance. Following these basic protective measures from the CDC is also encouraged:

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, hands and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Airlines continue to work collaboratively with the Administration, CDC, HHS, DOT, DHS and other federal agencies to prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of travelers. Additional information can be found at individual carrier websites and at www.AirlinesTakeAction.com.

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