How Are Airlines Cleaning Their Planes Right Now, Anyway?

Delta, for one, has started "fogging" its cabins

An empty airplane
You shouldn't be traveling right now (if you can help it), but here's what's happening on airplanes.
JC Gellidon/Unsplash
By Tanner Garrity / March 21, 2020 7:00 am

Real quick, right off the bat: You shouldn’t be flying right now. Most of us understand and respect that leisure travel is amoral, dangerous and just plain stupid at the moment.

Still, there are millions throughout the world who’ve had to hop on flights over the last couple weeks. Folks trying to return home, parents looking to get closer to family members who need more support, etc. These travelers are understandably worried; beyond the very real concern that fellow passengers could be a vector for COVID-19, airplanes just don’t have a great track record for cleanliness. Why should we expect a perennially short-on-supplies/time industry to operate any better (that is, cleaner) during a pandemic that’s directly costing it billions of dollars?

Well, because they sort of have to. The CDC directly urged airlines last week to step up its disinfectant treatments — and to be more open with the public on exactly how they’re doing so.

According to John Cox, a retired airline captain who guest-writes for USA Today, those ordinances have resulted in a variety of treatments: American airlines now use EPA-approved cleaning agents on tray tables, seatback screens, overhead bins and lavatories multiple times a day, before giving the cabin an extra scrub-down at night. Kiosks are getting a similar treatment. Fliers have been encouraged to check-in remotely, and touch as little as possible at the airport. One airline, Delta, has even started “fogging” its planes with disinfectant.

Elsewhere in the world, Qantas uses a bacteria-eliminating spray called Viraclean, and Emirates boasts an extensive eight-hour cleaning process that takes almost as long as some of its flights. For all these efforts, though, it’s hard not to think of gyms and fitness centers, which were sending proud emails around just a week ago, detailing how clean they’d been keeping their gyms. They’re now all closed, regardless. It seems likely that many flights, especially long-haul options (the industry’s big moneymaker) will soon be stuck on the tarmac, cleanliness be damned, as the world’s travel grinds to a full halt.

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