. Airlines Enhance Safety Protocols with Health Assessments, Mandatory Face Masks and More | Northstar Meetings Group

Airlines Enhance Safety Protocols with Health Assessments, Mandatory Face Masks and More

Travelers who refuse to wear masks might be denied future travel with major carriers like American Airlines and United.

Guests traveling with United Airlines must wear a face mask in-flight as well as at airport kiosks, gates, boarding areas and United Club lounges.
Guests traveling with United Airlines must wear a face mask in-flight as well as at airport kiosks, gates, boarding areas and United Club lounges. Photo Credit:United Airlines

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Updated Aug. 3, 2020.

International air travel isn't expected to recover from the coronavirus pandemic until 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association. But airlines are hoping to get more customers back in the sky sooner rather than later. To keep guests safe while traveling, major airlines are implementing new safety standards in an effort to assuage traveler fears. 

The initiatives follow new cleaning protocols that have been launched across the hotel industry, such as those announced by major brands like Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton. Major airlines have followed suit and revamping their hygiene practices in the age of COVID-19. The new standards include enhanced cleanings of aircraft, as well as temperature checks, face-mask requirements and health assessments for travelers. Following are protocols from many of the carriers.

Air Canada

Air Canada become the first airline in the Americas to introduce temperature checks back in May. The move was part of the company's new Air Canada CleanCare+ program.

All Air Canada customers must complete a health questionnaire and infrared temperature check before traveling. Anyone deemed unfit to fly will be rebooked on another flight at no cost, but will need to obtain medical clearance before they can travel.

The airline requires all customers and employees to wear face masks. Additional personal protective equipment, such as gloves, are available to staff members but are not required. Disposable customer-care kits, which include complimentary hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, are distributed to all passengers.

High-touch areas at check-in and at the gates are disinfected frequently. A hospital-grade disinfectant is used to sanitize planes before every flight. Thorough cleanings are conducted nightly and electrostatic sprayers are used to ensure the highest hygiene standards.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has rolled out the Next-Level Care program to ensure traveler safety. Since June 30, travelers have been be required to complete a health agreement as part of the check-in process. The agreement asks passengers to confirm  they have not exhibited COVID-19 symptoms within the past 72 hours, have not been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive, and will wear a face mask in the airport and aboard the aircraft.

Employees and all guests over the age of 12 are required to wear masks, which are available for customers who fail to bring their own. Travelers who repeatedly refuse to wear a mask will receive a warning and might be suspended from flying with Alaska Air for a period of time. 

The carrier also is limiting the number of guests on its flights and blocking seats through Sept. 30. In-flight food-and-beverage services have been reduced to limit interactions between customers and staff.

The airline has developed enhanced aircraft-cleaning procedures in coordination with infectious-disease experts from the University of Washington. This includes cleaning planes with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and bringing in a dedicated cleaning crew between flights. Once complete, the crew head conducts an audit of the procedures, before signing a cleaning certificate. 

Hand-sanitizing stations are being added to check-in lobbies and gate areas, which are sanitized on a frequent basis. "Mind Your Wingspan" floor decals and signage have been added to encourage social distancing between travelers. 

The airline plans to reopen its Alaska Lounges in Anchorage; Los Angeles; Seattle; and Portland, Ore.; on Aug. 1. Limited capacities, enhanced cleanings and adjusted food and beverage services are expected.

American Airlines

American Airlines requires all employees and travelers over the age of 2 to wear a face mask while flying. On July 29, the carrier began requiring guests to wear a face mask in airports, as well. Limited quantities of face masks will be available for travelers who do not bring their own. Travelers who do not wear a mask will be denied boarding and future travel with the airline.

Every aircraft is thoroughly cleaned with EPA-approved disinfectants on a daily basis. High-touch customer and team-member areas are cleaned before and after every flight. Public areas of the aircraft are disinfected with electrostatic spraying.

According to American, the cabin air in all planes is changed every two to four minutes, on par with hospital standards. Many aircraft are also outfitted with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove airborne particulates while in flight. Cleaning of gate areas, ticket counters, passenger-service counters, baggage-service offices and team-member rooms has been increased. Social-distancing signs have been posted at gates and ticket counters. In-flight food-and-beverage services have been adjusted based on the flight length and destination.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has announced a new partnership with Lysol-maker Reckitt Benckiser to enhance its Delta CareStandard protocols launched during COVID-19. Lysol products will be used to disinfect hotspots, such as check-in and baggage-claim areas. The companies also are working together to identify best practices in disinfecting protocols and to address ongoing travel cleanliness concerns. In addition, Delta has created a new Global Cleanliness division to drive a long-term commitment to enhanced hygiene practices. 

"There's no finish line for cleanliness — there's always more we can do to innovate and elevate our already-high standards, because that's what our customers and employees expect and deserve," said Bill Lentsch, Delta's chief customer experience officer. "The experts at Lysol share our drive for innovative, continuous improvement — they're the best at their craft. That's why we're excited to get started on R&D to target germ 'hot spots' and cement the Delta CareStandard as the industry gold standard — so customers feel confident in choosing Delta as more people return to travel."

The airline now requires all Delta customers and employees to wear face masks. They must be worn onboard the aircraft, as well as at lobby check-in, in Delta Sky Clubs and at in boarding areas. According to Delta CEO Ed Bastian, the airline has already banned 120 passengers for refusing to wear masks. In late July, Delta introduced a COVID-19 assessment to its check-in process.

The carrier will continue to block middle seats in all cabins through Sept. 30 (exceptions will be made for parties of three or more who are traveling together). During this time, the total number of passengers in cabins will be reduced by 50 percent in first class and 60 percent in the main cabins. 

Additional cleanliness protocols include fogging plane interiors with a high-grade EPA-registered disinfectant before every flight. An extensive checklist is being used during aircraft cleaning, focusing on high-touch areas. Before each flight, a customer service agent and a flight leader will conduct a spot check to make sure the aircraft meets the Delta Clean standards. If not, a cleaning crew will be asked to return for additional sanitization. 

Emirates

Dubai-based Emirates, which operated 3,600 flights a week before the pandemic, was the first airline to offer free COVID-19 insurance if travelers get sick. This includes coverage for medical treatment and health expenses (up to US$175,000) and quarantine costs (up to US$115 per day for 14 days).

All cabin crew, boarding agents and ground staff in direct contact with passengers must don personal protective equipment, including disposable gowns, safety visors, masks and gloves.

On flights, passengers are required to wear their masks and gloves throughout their journey from check-in until they disembark. A complimentary travel hygiene kit with gloves, a face mask, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer will be provided for them at check-in.

Other protocols include the removal of magazines and other print material; and meals are now limited to bento-style boxes, to reduce contact between the crew and passengers. All Emirates planes now undergo enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes after each journey. Lavatories are frequently disinfected, and if a flight is longer than 90 minutes, an extra crew member dedicated to cleaning the lavatories will be added. 

Frontier Airlines 

Following the steps Air Canada has taken, Frontier Airlines began implementing temperature checks for all passengers and staff members in June. 

Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied boarding. If the departure time allows, customers can rest for a little and then get their temperatures rechecked. If the reading is still too high, they will be rebooked on another flight for a later date.

In addition, all travelers are required to wear face coverings and will need to complete a health acknowledgement form to certify that:

  • Neither they nor anyone in their household has come into close contact with, tested positive for, exhibited symptoms of or been advised to quarantine for COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
  • They will have their temperatures checked with a touchless thermometer prior to boarding.
  • They will wear a face covering over their noses and mouths throughout their journey, including at ticket counters, in gate areas and aboard the flight.
  • They will wash their hands before boarding.

 

The carrier also uses fogging to apply hospital-grade disinfectant to nearly all surfaces in the aircraft, including lavatories, galleys, air vents, seats, overhead bins and more. According to Frontier, all planes are equipped with HEPA filters and the cabin air is replaced every three minutes.

The discount airline previously received heavy criticism for planning to charge passengers extra to keep the middle seat next to them empty. The social-distancing fee, which was expected to run between $39 to $89, has since been rescinded. 

Hawaiian Airlines

14-day mandatory quarantine for all travelers visiting Hawaii has been extended through August. Starting Sept. 1, out-of-state travelers will be able to avoid the quarantine by getting a valid COVID-19 test within 72 hours before boarding and showing proof of a negative test result at the airport.

Hawaiian Airlines currently requires all guests to wear a face mask that covers their mouths and noses, from check-in at the airport to deplaning at the destination. Young children and guests with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt. Airport employees and flight attendants are also required to wear masks. 

The airline is also modifying its boarding process. Guests will be asked to remain seated at the gate until their row is called, and boarding will begin from the rear of the aircraft in groups of three to five rows at a time. Gate agents can pause boarding as needed to prevent crowding. Adjoining seats in all aircrafts will be blocked to increase personal space between customers.

Sanitation wipes will be distributed to passengers. Meanwhile, detailed cleaning and disinfecting protocols have been added between flights and the airline has begun applying an electrostatic treatment at least once a day to its planes. 

The airline's lounges have been closed and in-flight services, such as alcohol and hot-towel services, have been suspended. Hawaiian Airlines airport employees have been trained to identify and assist people with COVID-19 symptoms while minimizing the risk of contagion.

JetBlue

JetBlue, headquartered in Long Island City, N.Y., has added temperature screenings for all customer-facing crew members. Crew members must also wear masks, along with medical-grade gloves, during service delivery. Customers are required to wear face coverings during check-in, boarding and in-flight.

As part of the check-in process, travelers must complete a health declaration that they have not tested positive for COVID-19, experienced any symptoms or been in contact with anyone who has tested positive. Customers will be given Personal Protection Packs prior to boarding, which include hand sanitizer and two disinfectant wipes.

Since late March, the airline has limited the number of seats available on most flights. The carrier will continue to block middle seats on larger planes and aisle seats on smaller ones through Sept. 8. Rows near crew-member jump seats have also been blocked off to create buffer zones for crew and customer safety. 

Normal boarding procedures have been halted. Instead, most customers will board the plane from the back to the front. The sale of onboard products, such as beer, wine, EatUp boxes and earbuds, has been suspended temporarily. The Pantry, JetBlue's communal grab-and-go snack-and-beverage area, will no longer be available. Food-and-beverage offerings, however, will be served as part of the airline's premium travel experience, JetBlue Mint

All JetBlue aircraft are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filters, and the cabin air is changed roughly every three minutes. The airline has intensified aircraft cleaning each night and extended ground time during the day for disinfecting purposes.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines unveiled new health measures in May. The initiative, titled "Southwest Promise," aims to assure customers that safety has and always will be the airline's top priority.

The new cleanliness standards apply to the airports, as well as the planes. Southwest spaces at airports, including ticket counters, gates and baggage claim, will be cleaned multiple times a day. In addition, Plexiglas shields are being installed at ticket counters and gate podiums, and airport signage and floor markers will be used to encourage social distancing in the gate areas.

In mid-April, Southwest began using electrostatic sprayers to apply disinfectants and antimicrobial protectant to every interior surface of an aircraft. The sprays are designed to kill viruses and create a protective shield for 30 days. Each plane is also being cleaned for nearly six to seven hours each night. Particular attention is being paid to high-touch areas, including every tray table, armrest, seatbelt, window, air vent and button. Additional cleanings between flights have been added, and HEPA filters are used to circulate air and remove airborne particles in the cabin of every flight.

Boarding groups are being limited to 10 people. The number of passengers on each plane has also been reduced and Southwest Airlines said it will keep middle seats blocked off at least through Oct. 31 to give customers more space. Water and a snack mix are being served on flights of more than 250 miles, when available. All other beverage and snack service has been suspended for the time being.

Employees and customers are required to wear face masks at all times. The airline has extra face masks and sanitizing wipes on hand if customers forget to bring their own. 

Spirit Airlines

All Spirit guests and staff members must wear face coverings. Only children under the age of 2 are exempt. For guests who do not bring their own mask, the discount airline will provide one for $3. 

The Spirit mobile app offers contactless check-in, and self-bag tagging is available at most airports.

Electrostatic-cleaning devices are being deployed to disinfect Spirit ticket counters, gates, break rooms, maintenance centers and crew bases in high-traffic airports.  

Spirit has also expanded its aircraft-cleaning protocols with a focus on highly frequented areas, including tray tables, handles and arm rests. All Spirit planes come equipped with HEPA filters, and crew members have been trained to report and address infectious diseases.

United Airlines

United has put together a coronavirus safety hub with the latest updates on what the carrier is doing to keep customers and employees safe. The new standards, dubbed United CleanPlus, were developed in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox.

Changes include temperature checks for all employees and flight attendants, installing sneeze guards at check-in and gate podiums, and offering contactless check-in through the United app. High-touch areas on planes, such as arm rests and door handles, will be disinfected with a range of Clorox products throughout the day. The carrier is also using electrostatic-disinfectant sprayers on all planes before departure. 

All United crew members and customers are required to wear face masks at the airport and in-flight. Guests who do not have their own masks will be provided with one. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask might be denied boarding and could lose their travel privileges on future United flights.

To minimize contact between crew and customers in-flight, United is switching to an "all-in-one" snack bag that has sanitizer wipes, an 8.5-ounce water bottle, a stroopwafel and a package of pretzels. Onboard sales have been suspended, along with hot-towel service and pick-up pans used to collect trash during flights. 

Social-distancing measures have been implemented at the airport, including signage and six-feet markers at ticket booths. Fewer customers will board at a time, with boarding beginning from the back rows.