How airlines are helping protect you from Coronavirus
Everyone knows that airplanes (just like every other mode of public transport) harbour germs, but most times we pay little attention and carry on as normal. Airplane cleanliness is a priority for all airlines, with carriers employing contractors at the airport or budget airlines using their cabin crew to clean in-between sectors and then professional cleaners giving a deeper clean overnight.
However, with the added pressure of a quick turnaround, cleanliness can vary from flight to flight, but are priorities changing in light of the Coronavirus? Airlines are starting to change policies and relax fees for bookings made over a certain time and are looking to reassure passengers with their cleaning techniques too.
The US Center for Disease Control and Preventention (CDC) have updated their site on the 4th March 2020 to include the continuation of routine operating procedures for cleaning aircraft – if there are no symptomatic passengers identified during or immediately after a flight.
However, robust procedures are in place should there be any symptomatic passenger(s) identified during or immediately after, including deeper cleaning of non-porous (hard surfaces) and porous (soft) materials for deeper cleaning e.g seat belt fabric.
The International Air Transport Association( IATA) has highlighted individual government responses. For example the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) recommends aircraft travelling to China to provide infection prevention and offers these guidelines for airlines to follow. However, they are not mandatory.
An example of these included, for flights with a turnaround time of under 60 mins, cleaning tray-tables is only on request but in all cases lavatories are throughly cleaned and aircraft are given full cleans overnight. Notably, airplane bassinets are not mentioned in these particular guidelines, so it is probably a good idea to wipe down any leather, metal or plastic parts of a bassinet with an anti-bacterial wipe yourself before using.
However, reassuringly, CAAC say rags and mops used in each area should be of different colours to reduce cross contamination.
If your airline is flying into a higher risk area, the guidelines cover a range of measures such as cabin crew screening passengers for fevers with no touch thermometer, equipping cabin crew with surgical or medical protective masks and routinely disinfecting aircraft.
Etihad Airways explains about air quality on the plane too. “Modern aircraft, including the entire Etihad Airways fleet, are equipped with cabin air filtration systems of similar quality to those used in hospital operating theatres.”
They add further information, “in any confined area, there is a risk of contracting illnesses from other people. However, the risk is considered lower on aircraft because of the use of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are effective in capturing more than 99 per cent of airborne microbes in filtered air. As well, cabin air flow is continuous, and delivered at a rate equivalent to up to 30 changes per hour.”
With Coronavirus impacting travel in various ways, I’ve contacted several airlines to see how they are reassuring you and helping to keep people safe and travelling. Check below to see what your airline is doing. All are keeping a close eye on WHO recommendations in this dynamic situation. The information below is correct as of 8th March 2020
Alaska Airlines is going to great depth to reassure with photos and video of their cleaning process. It looks very thorough and is worth a look at!
British Airways updated their website which amongst other useful information states,
“Like all carriers, we continue to work closely with the relevant government and health authorities, and follow their advice.
We clean every aircraft after each flight. This is a regular clean after every shorter (short-haul) flight with an additional, more thorough clean every evening. On longer flights our aircraft receive a thorough clean after every flight. This includes the cleaning of seats, seat pockets, tray tables, galleys, toilets, floors and the aircraft interior and surfaces generally. We carry out an even deeper clean of our aircraft on average, every month.”
Easyjet are “following guidance from international and national public health authorities and they have not required us to do anything differently. We would follow any advice as required and they have advised the risk is very low.
Our cabin crew clean the aircraft after every flight, in line with industry standards, and dispose of any waste. The cabin, toilets/restrooms, seats and tray tables are thoroughly cleaned each night by professional cleaning teams at all of our airports.
Additionally every aircraft goes through a deep clean on a regular basis by a team of specialist cleaners.“
Emirates are also cleaning bassinets and tray tables etc. An Emirates spokesperson states, “
“The safety and health of our customers and employees is taken very seriously and we are continuously liaising with international and local health organizations to ensure we are following the most up-to-date medical guidelines and directives. As an additional measure we have stepped up aircraft cleaning, and in cases where we are alerted to any suspect or confirmed cases of infectious diseases, we will disinfect all cabins of those aircraft.
This is a dynamic situation which we are managing carefully as a business, and we strongly urge our customers to practice good hand and health hygiene and follow the World Health Organization and health authorities guidelines.”
Here is a video of the Emirates cleaning process:
As a matter of course, Etihad applies a very detailed cleaning processes on all of its aircraft, a policy which was already in place prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus. See above for their reassuring air filtering information.
Ryan Air spokesperson states;
“It is part of Ryanair’s hygiene procedure that all interiors are disinfected each night. Ryanair, like other airlines, is following all WHO and EU guidelines to address the Covid-19 virus.”
“Our current procedures for international aircraft cleanings include a wipe down of hard surfaces touched by customers, and the cleaning solution we use also includes a disinfectant, which is a precaution we implemented after the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In the case of a confirmed diagnosis, any impacted aircraft will immediately undergo a deep cleaning, which includes washing ceilings and overhead bins and scrubbing the interior. Additionally, we will absolutely assign a deeper clean undertaking depending on CDCs recommendations.” United also confirmed that bassinets are fully cleaned with the cleaner/disinfectant.
Singapore Airlines updated their website on the 4th March 2020 to state that procedures include, “
screening of passengers on the ground and the distribution of a health advisory notice by Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH). Inflight announcements regarding Covid-19 will also be made on all flights to and from mainland China.
We also have standard operating procedures to handle various inflight medical emergencies, including potentially infectious diseases. Any unwell passenger will be attended to by the relevant medical authorities immediately after the aircraft lands.
Passengers and crew who are feeling unwell are strongly advised to promptly seek medical attention and report their travel history.
As a precautionary measure, temporary changes have been made to our inflight service for flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and South Korea. These include, but are not limited to, pre-setting of inflight items where possible, double catering out of Singapore, removal of seatback literature and the temporary suspension of inflight sales. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.“
Southwest airlines have updated their website to include information about Coronavirus which states,
“Southwest Airlines aircraft are maintained in accordance with an established program aimed at providing a clean and inviting cabin environment. Each aircraft is tidied between flights and subsequently undergoes a comprehensive program every night that includes cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting the aircraft cabin and lavatories. These procedures meet or exceed recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).”
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said “The health and safety of our customers and staff is always our absolute priority. We are following, and often exceeding, official advice on health precautions, and continually monitor the latest guidance from health authorities in all the destinations we fly to. Our aircraft cleaning teams are trained to meet our high cleanliness standards to provide our customers and crew with a safe and comfortable onboard experience. Our aircraft are cleaned after each and every flight using a high-grade registered disinfecting product, that has been tested to be effective against many viruses. “
“For all flights, cleaning teams are required to complete a rigorous checklist for cabin cleanliness including disinfecting cabin surfaces and customer contact areas such as seats, seatback pockets, door handles, tray tables, inflight entertainment screens and floors. Common area surfaces in galleys and lavatories are also disinfected using the same high-grade disinfectant.”
“In addition to the above, all catering and cabin products undergo sanitation and disinfectant procedures after every flight, this includes all linen, tableware, dishes, cutlery, glassware, child bassinets and headphones“
A spokesperson confirmed they do anti-bac the bassinets.
What can you do to help?
A good place to seek current and up-to-date advice is the WHO and keep a close eye on what your government health authority is advising.
A study from Emory and Georgia Tech says the best place to sit is a window seat. “Sick passengers will most likely not transmit droplet-spread infections to passengers seated farther than two seats beside them, and one row in front or in back. Vicki Hertzberg, an Emory nursing professor, and Howard Weiss, a Georgia Tech mathematics professor, assessed rates and routes of possible germ transmission during flights.”
Guidance by all health organisations is to wash hands regularly and throughly for 20 seconds (or sing happy birthday twice whilst washing them) and to avoid touching your face as much as possible. Dispose of tissues appropriately after single use.
Places to consider wiping down with anti-bac or antiseptic for extra peace of mind include; your seatbelt, tray table, TV touch screen, handset, armrests, light and call buttons, and the airline bassinet if you are flying with a baby. Travel Mad Mum is a nurse and offers further practical advice on travelling in this excellent post..
Remember, if you are feeling ill, do alert a member of the crew straightaway. They are trained professionals who will be aware of the latest advice and procedures for airlines and will do their best to make you feel more comfortable.
Advice may change since the publication of this post, so always check with official sources. For latest travel news and restrictions check IATA.