This is the Age of COVID. This will be a new phrase in our lexicon for some time to come. In order to restore the greatest economy in the world, we must be prudent, measured, and compassionate in our recovery from this crisis. I believe our national airlines can lead the way in jump starting the economy and showing people that we can continue our lives as close to normal as possible……..in the age of COVID.
First, masks are going to be a necessity for air travel for the near, if not, distant future. If you want to go see family, visit the Grand Canyon, or meet a business client in-person, masks on airplanes will be a fact of life. JetBlue, American, Delta, and United have already instituted policies requiring masks be worn by all passengers and cabin crew. Even in the flight deck, some companies are now allowing masks for pilots if they mutually decide one should be worn while flying. Whether you agree or not, masks are more about preventing the person wearing them from spreading their germs, than preventing the wearer from catching someone else’s. Science proves this to be true, time and again.
In addition to masks, the airlines’ gate agents are already using social distancing practices when seating passengers prior to flights. The more space between passengers, the better for their health and sanity. Some airlines have now instituted a percentage seating cap on flights, to aid in social distancing. As a pilot for a major airline, I can tell you from personal experience, unless you are sitting right next to someone who is sick, and that person coughs without covering their mouth while you are snoring with your mouth wide open, it’s not what you breath, it’s what you touch on an airplane. In this age of COVID, bring a bottle of hand sanitizer with you on your flight. Use it before drinking or eating. If you are able to wash your hands in the airplane lavatory, use hand sanitizer again when you return to your seat.
The airlines will and are stepping up their efforts to clean and sanitize aircraft throughout the day and in the evenings. Currently, all major airlines have implemented extensive cleaning measures at the end of the flying day, in order to fully sanitize their aircraft. Schedules have been greatly reduced because of a drop in demand. As a result, there will be time to accomplish this same level of cleaning between flights, or at least close to it. This could potentially become an employment sector where jobs become available for thousands of unemployed workers, since more and more cleaners will be required to minimize the impact sterilization efforts may have on flight schedules. Personally, I bring sanitizing wipes with me on flights that I am either flying or catching a ride on, so I can clean my own seating area and the major touch points around me: armrests, tray tables, buttons, and seatbelts. In this age of COVID, it’s peace of mind.
Most of the aircraft flown by US airlines have been filtering the cabin air well before the age of COVID. From the Airbus series of narrow-body aircraft, to the newest Boeing 787 Dreamliner, most are equipped with HEPA filtration components as part of their overall pressurization and air conditioning systems. On top of that, every aircraft completely replaces its entire volume of cabin air multiple times during a flight and upon landing. On certain aircraft, a percentage of the cabin air is recycled, all of it through the HEPA system. Even these select aircraft will replace all cabin air throughout the flight because of the way in which these systems are mechanically designed. Even before the Age of COVID, the airlines and aircraft manufacturers were focused on keeping you, the passenger, safe.
As an additional means of protecting passengers, Delta recently implemented a boarding order that now seats passengers from back to front. I have been asked many times by numerous individuals in the boarding area, why we never board back to front. Before the pandemic, there were business and traveler status reasons for this, including bag stowage priority and other business-related considerations. Now, it makes sense, for health reasons, to prevent boarding passengers from potentially spreading their asymptomatic germs to those who have already boarded. This needs to be a standard practice across the airline industry in the Age of COVID.
Some of the other health and safety practices and programs will need to be researched and vetted further, from medical screening at customs checkpoints for inbound international flights, to the safe fumigation of aircraft interiors (which is also being tested and implemented at certain airlines), to medical passports and immediate testing for sickness and viruses from areas known to have infectious disease outbreaks. There are many good ideas that can be implemented to protect the travelling public, while ensuring a comfortable ride to your next family reunion or business meeting. Whether that is a couple of states away, or cruising among the clouds across the Pacific Ocean, the airlines can lead the way on ensuring public transportation is safe for everyone, in the Age of COVID.