COVID-19: How U.S. Carriers Are Working to Protect Travelers
June 04, 2020
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 – all guidance from the CDC to help contain and stop the spread of COVID-19. Carriers have added layers of protection to help protect passengers throughout their journey – from requiring facial coverings to enhancing cleaning protocols, such as electrostatic and fogging procedures. Some have implemented new boarding procedures and reduced beverage service to limit interaction.
Most aircraft also have High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which generate air as clean as an ICU. According to the CDC, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights.”
Alaska Airlines has increased its cleaning procedures between flights and utilizing disinfectants that are effective against viruses to supplement 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 extra 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 to reduce touchpoints, and hand sanitizer has been deployed to airports and company offices for use in break rooms, lounges, ticket counters and gates.
Employees and guests will be required to wear masks while traveling as an additional precaution and signage in airports will remind guests to “Mind Your Wingspan” with stickers six feet apart at ticket counters, baggage drops, customer service centers and gate areas. Alaska is temporarily blocking all middle seats, except for families, to provide guests with the flexibility to achieve distancing. Hand sanitizer has also been deployed to all Alaska airports and offices for use in break rooms, lounges, ticket counters and gates.
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 aircraft that remain overnight at airports. Cleaning processes have been expanded to 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.
Enhanced measures 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. The seating policy has been relaxed on most flights — 50% of all standard middle seats will be blocked — to allow for distancing and there will be reduced food and beverage options. Increased hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes will be available for crewmembers and customers. Masks are required for flight attendants and customers and American will distribute face masks and sanitizing wipes or gels to customers in need of one as supplies allow.
Delta has expanded its cleaning procedures to include electrostatic spraying with an EPA-registered disinfectant on every flight at every Delta airport as a part of Delta Clean, an elevated standard of cleaning measures. All common surface areas in galleys and lavatories are cleaned with an approved disinfectant along with increased disinfection procedures for catering facilities that include sanitizing food contact surfaces, food carts and all catering products. 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.
Airport kiosks are disinfected multiple times a day, and Delta has increased the cleaning schedule of gate areas. As an increased safety measure, Delta has installed a plexiglass shield at check-in lobbies, gate departures and Delta Sky Club counters. Delta is has also initiated a new back-to-front boarding process to ensure space between passengers. Middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select have been blocked in order to enable distancing, along with streamlined food and beverage service with a standard clear bag with snacks and water to reduce person-to-person contact. Select window and aisle seats have also been blocked. To reduce the overall number of customers in every cabin, Delta has capped seating at 50 percent in First Class and 60 percent in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort + and Delta Premium Select through September 30. Hand sanitizer is available at ticket counters, boarding gates, Need Help Centers, Baggage Service Offices and Sky Clubs for all employees and customers. Additionally, customers are provided with complimentary care kits which include a disposable face mask and hand sanitizer. Customer-facing employees and customers are also required to wear face coverings for an extra layer of protection.
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. Transpacific aircraft are disinfected after every flight, and interisland aircraft are cleaned after every flight into Honolulu and disinfected nightly. Electrostatic spraying with an EPA-registered hospital-grade disinfectant is conducted on neighbor island aircraft nightly and prior to each departure on transpacific aircraft. Hand sanitizer is broadly available throughout Hawaiian’s airport lobbies and offices, and counters and self-service kiosks are disinfected frequently.
All Hawaiian employees and guests are required to wear a face covering that covers the mouth and nose during the traveling process. Prior to boarding, six-feet-social-distancing markers by ticket counters, gates and baggage claims promote safe distancing, and Main Cabin guests will board from rear of the aircraft. Deplaning will also be done by row, starting from the front of the aircraft. Hawaiian is working to maintain distance between guests with adjusted seating and is providing guests with a complimentary sanitizing wipe. Inflight service has been adjusted to reduce touchpoints.
JetBlue is committed to keeping customers and crewmembers safe and well through implementing Safety from the Ground Up. 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. Common surfaces in airport terminals are also frequently disinfected with hospital-grade disinfectant, and passengers are encouraged to use smartphone technology during the check-in process to reduce touchpoints. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are widely available throughout terminals as well as on board flights. JetBlue is beginning to use electrostatic sprayers to treat aircraft cabins during overnight cleanings to treat hard to reach surfaces.
Normal boarding procedures are temporarily suspended, and customers will board from back to front to minimize contact. The number of seats for sale on flights will also be limited to provide facilitate additional space between individuals through July 6. 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 increased safety. Food and beverage service have been limited and snack baskets and beverage service have been replaced with a pre-sealed snack and beverage bag. Hot towel service has been suspended as well. As a precautionary measure, all crewmembers and passengers are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth.
Southwest aircraft receive more than six hours of cleaning every night and are cleaned between flights. Technicians use an EPA-approved, hospital grade disinfectant on touchpoints throughout the aircraft, such as on touchpoints in the passenger cabin, on elements in the flight deck and in the lavatory. Southwest also has implemented electrostatic anti-microbial sprayers for aircraft cleaning on all overnight stops with expanded use to treat the full fleet. The electrostatic solution utilizes a disinfection agent and antimicrobial cleaner to reach surfaces humans hands are unable to reach.
Further measures have been taken to support distancing, including limiting the number of passengers on board, modifying the boarding and deplaning process and suspending all on-board beverage and snack services, except for water on flights less than 250 miles. Sanitizing wipes are available for customers on request. New signage, floor markers and plexiglass shields at ticket counters and gate podiums encourage physical distancing and contact-free interactions. All Southwest ticket counters, baggage claims and gates are cleaned multiple times a day. For further protection, all Southwest employees and customers will also be required to wear face coverings.
United is committed to delivering cleanliness and putting the health and safety of guests at the forefront of the travel experience through United CleanPlus. 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.
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. Self-serve kiosks have temporarily been shut down and passengers are encouraged to utilize smartphone technology to reduce touchpoints. Seats will be limited in all cabins, along with the middle seat blocked off, as well as fewer customers boarded at a time from back-to-front to allow for more distance. Customer service representatives also will proactively re-seat customers when possible to allow for distancing. Food service has been adjusted to minimize touchpoints and all passengers will receive an “all-in-one” snack bag that includes a sanitizer wipe, bottled water and snacks. As an added measure of protection, customer-facing employees and passengers are required to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth.
All 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.
Although the virus has change how everyday life is conducted, it has not changed the level of commitment and care that airlines seek to provide passengers. For more information about how A4A’s carriers are working to protect the traveling public and employees, visit www.AirlinesTakeAction.com.