From disinfecting customer touch points, spraying seats with anti-microbial mist to health check-ups of crew members at regular intervals, airlines are scrambling to reassure wary travellers that planes are safe even as air passenger traffic remains a trickle of what it was in pre-Covid days. In India too, most airlines have put in place a rigorous cleaning procedure involving 3-4 hours for every commercial aircraft.
Most airlines have equipped their aircraft with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which claim to catch 99.9 per cent of particles as small as 0.1 to 0.3 microns and trap harmful particles such as pollen and dust mites, including coronavirus .
Resurgence of novel coronavirus cases in Europe has not helped matters, with a recent survey cited by AP saying that instead of growing comfortable with air travel, more people are becoming nervous at the idea of being trapped indoors in close proximity with many people for hours on end.
This comes even as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that most viruses and other germs don't spread easily on flights because of how air circulates on planes.
In its latest report, the International Air Transport Association said global air passenger traffic was 79.8 per cent less in July this year compared to the corresponding period a year ago. The association, which represents 290 airlines comprising 82 per cent of global air traffic, has predicted that carriers will lose $84 billion this year, making it the worst year in the industry's history, with traffic not recovering fully until 2024.
Marking for social distancing at Delhi Airport Terminal 3
Precautions taken by domestic and international carriers inside aircraft:
To lure back passengers, India's domestic carrier is regularly disinfecting customer touch points and surfaces before every flight and has installed HEPA air-filtration systems. SpiceJet has also equipped its aircraft with non-porous synthetic leather seats. "These non-porous seats make it difficult for viruses and particles to penetrate inside them and can be easily wiped off compared to standard fabric seats," its website mentioned.
In addition to disinfecting aircraft, IndiGo is also carrying out fumigation while all common surfaces where frequency of contact is maximum, such as wheelchairs, crew vehicles, armrests, overhead nozzles, lavatories, are being given special attention.
Passengers from Middle East Airline wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus wait to be screened for COVID-19 (AP)
The carrier is using an antimicrobial coating, called Zoona Microbe Shield, on the seats, trays, bins and bathrooms of its aircraft fleet besides HEPA air-filtration systems. The coating inhibits the growth of microbes after forming a long-lasting bond with surfaces, according to the carrier. "Its use will create an extra level of protection on our aircraft to help better protect our employees and customers," Toby Enqvist, United's chief customer officer, said in a statement.
HEPA filters, hospital-grade disinfectant and fogging is what American Airlines has armed itself with to keep Covid-19 at arm's length from passengers. The airline has also said it is deep cleaning high-contact surfaces like seat belt buckles, tray tables, armrests, and window shades. Wipes and hand sanitizer have also been made available on flights over 900 miles.
Social distancing markers at the departure hall off the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)
Delta Air Lines
Delta is using electrostatic spray and fogging to sanitise its aircraft before every flight. Electrostatic sprays produce uniform and fine droplets of disinfectants in the size range of 10-20 micrometre to kill viruses. Besides, Delta has blocked all middle seats to minimise human-to-human contact.
Emirates has equipped its fleet with HEPA filters and the lavatories are cleaned on flights over 90 minutes. An aircraft is disinfected following every trip and passengers are given a complimentary hygiene kit containing a mask, antibacterial wipes, gloves, and hand sanitiser.
Passengers at Fiumicino Rome airport show their quick COVID-19 test reports upon boarding a flight to Milan (AP)
Turkish Airlines is spraying a chemical substance, tested by the World Health Organization, with a special device that it claims disinfects the aircraft within 10 minutes. The carrier has claimed that the process is carried out by purification teams wearing PPE and takes about 25 minutes. Moreover, textile products such as blankets and pillows are changed and washed at high temperatures after each flight.
The German carrier claims that air filters inside its planes supply a complete exchange of fresh air approximately every three minutes. Besides increasing its frequency and intensity of disinfecting cabins, the airline is providing passengers with disinfectant wipes for cleaning surfaces in and around their seat.
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