Social distancing is vital in the fight against coronavirus,
But safe travel is, of course, more than just social distancing.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published a list of guidelines airlines should follow to protect passengers and crew from contracting the illness.
IATA’s guidelines, which are not mandatory for airlines to follow, cover a range of measures such as screening passengers for fevers, equipping cabin crew with surgical or medical protective masks, and routinely disinfecting aircraft.
This is what you should be looking for from your airline…
Flying with an airline that cleans the interiors to the highest possible standards. In recent years, with the advent of the low-cost carriers (LCCs), airlines prided themselves on having quick turn-round times. This was how quickly they could land at an airport, have all the passengers disembark, unload all the bags and then get a new set of passengers and their bags back on. At such times, cleaning the aircraft was left to airline attendants as an extra task.
Airlines are now saying they are stepping up their cleaning regimes.
Strong disinfectant is being used, and all areas of the aircraft are routinely being cleaned and disinfected including (but not limited to) “…surfaces and fixtures in the cabin including tray tables, armrests, air vents, controls, seatbelts, entertainment screens, handles and latches” (this from Qantas).
You will see airlines now saying their standards “exceed CDC and Airbus guidance”. This means a comprehensive cleaning programme for all aircraft including “a regular schedule of standard and deep-clean procedures with all touch surfaces, from seatbelts and tray tables to galleys and lavatories, being sanitised and disinfected thoroughly during every cleaning” (Qantas again).
You will also hear mention of the use of “an advanced antimicrobial protectant that kills viruses, germs and bacteria on contact for 14 days (this from Allegiant.)
On board hygiene
It’s also hopeful that the airline will have disinfectant wipes stocked on all aircraft and available to customers by request.
Modern aircraft score more highly on this. You are hoping for something along the line of this from Allegiant
“Good quality air exceeding HEPA standards thanks to our VOC (volatile organic compound) filters, which remove additional organic compounds. On average, cabin air is changed every three minutes through a continuous flow of fresh and VOC-filtered air”.
You can read more about Air Quality in this piece from 2016.
Inflight service items
Many airlines are now serving these pre-packaged and sealed. Delta, for instance (Delta customers to get pre-packed snack bags on domestic flights) has introduced pre-packed snacks bags on domestic services, as part of measures aimed at decreasing onboard touchpoints during the coronavirus pandemic.
Crew members wear gloves during inflight service, and service frequency has been reduced to once per flight. Customers can use the Call button to make additional service requests.
Many have removed them. Emirates, for instance, Emirates issues safety measures for travellers says that
“We will operate a modified inflight service programme on these flights. Magazines and other print reading material will not be available, and while food and beverages will continue to be offered onboard, packaging and presentation will be modified to reduce contact during meal service and the risk of infection.”
The science community is still divided about the effectiveness of face masks, but some airlines have already mandated that flight attendants will wear them.
Meanwhile some airlines have gone further, and require passengers to wear them as well (such as Emirates)