Business

Airlines enhance onboard disinfection to reduce risks

saniNew findings support airlines’ extensive cleaning practice that requires cabins be thoroughly sanitised prior to boarding, WOLE SHADARE writes

SAFETY

Getting on a plane is safer than in a car or getting in an Uber or ride-sharing or any other form of public transportation, according to aviation experts. They said it had been proven, over time, they are 100 per cent confident it is safe to be on air travel. More than half a year into the coronavirus scourge, many point to longstanding evidence that people are more likely to die on the way to the airport than aboard a plane. Airline executives also highlight sophisticated air filtration systems, enhanced cleaning like electronic spraying between flights and face-masks requirements. Many would-be passengers remain extremely wary, convinced that packing into a cabin and breathing the same air with dozens or hundreds of other people for hours is the opposite of safe during a pandemic. U.S. airline traffic is only about a third of what it was before the virus scrambled travel plans.

Leap of faith

Walking through an airport and getting on an airplane requires more of a leap of faith than before COVID-19. Data and studies are still scanty and experts disagree on the relative safety of a plane, car or office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says airplane ventilation systems filter and circulate air frequently, so that “viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights.” But the agency notes “social distancing is difficult on crowded flights and sitting within six feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.” It also flags the risk of close contact with other people in airport terminals or when going to or from the airport.

Helping travelers

Meanwhile, as the new coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, airlines are doing their part to help travelers, from offering flexible change policies to taking precautions to sanitize and prevent the virus from spreading. Airlines usually clean plane cabins to varying degrees when turning around the aircraft between each flight. Usually, this can entail picking up trash, switching out linens and wiping down surfaces with an EPA-approved disinfectant. When the aircraft is done flying at the end of the day, crews usually give the plane a deeper scrub so it’s refreshed for the next day (for example, Southwest says it spends six hours on a final clean of each aircraft every night). Disinfecting aircraft cabins is a key part of a multi-layered public health risk-reduction strategy, according to a technical bulletin published by faculty at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Findings

The findings support Delta’s extensive cleaning practices, including our industry-leading commitment to electrostatic spraying of high-touch surfaces using high-grade disinfectant on every flight, every day. While contaminated surfaces account for less than 10 per cent of COVID-19 transmission risk in certain settings, the study found that diligent cleaning protocols, combined with a number of other strategies, offer significant protection for air travelers. “Current research in infection control recommends enhanced cleaning be combined with other risk reduction strategies by airports, airlines, passengers and aircraft crew members to minimise the amount of infectious virus in the environment,” according to the Harvard report. “These include screening and health attestations to help exclude symptomatic people, use of advanced ventilation and filtration systems on aircraft and personal protections such as wearing face masks and good hand hygiene,” the report noted.

Recommendations

Harvard’s latest bulletin – part of a set of recommendations to reduce the health risks of flying during the pandemic – notes that airlines should focus cabin cleaning on high-frequency touch surfaces, with systematic disinfection of surfaces between flights on a daily basis. Every interior surface on every Delta flight is thoroughly sanitized prior to boarding using electrostatic sprayers – including lavatories. Delta is distributing customer care kits, available at all Delta ticket counters and gates, that offer a hand sanitizer wipe and a mask. Customers also receive a hand sanitizer wipe upon boarding. Finally, Delta will become the first U.S. airline where customers can find hand sanitizer stations near the boarding door and bathrooms on every Delta aircraft; those installations began in August. “We don’t know of any other airline leveraging electrostatic spraying on every flight the way Delta is and based on the products available in the market today, we’re confident it’s the best way to ensure every surface is disinfected,” said Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch. “Our Global Cleanliness division is pushing innovation and driving a standard of cleanliness that is best in class, and research like this shows that we’re focusing on all the right measures.” The Harvard bulletin also notes that aircraft lavatories are high-frequency touch areas subject to special maintenance and cleaning between flights. Delta flight attendants are wiping down high-touch surfaces in lavatories frequently during each flight: While in the air, flight attendants regularly make sure lavatories are clean, tidy, fully stocked with supplies and ready for customers. Using kits that include disinfectant spray, wipes and gloves, flight attendants ensure the thorough sanitization completed prior to boarding stays fresh.

Last line

Overall, Delta has instituted over 100 layers of protection from check-in to baggage claim to deliver a new standard of cleanliness, more space and safer service for customers and employees alike. These and other layers of protection are in place to ensure customers can fly with confidence aboard any Delta flight:

 

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