Business Traveler|July/August 2020
Proximity and duration are the two factors that crop up in most discussions of the likely spread of COVID-19. The closer you are to someone infected with the coronavirus plus the longer the time you spend near them, the more likely you are to become infected yourself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest COVID-19 risk is being around breathing, laughing, coughing, sneezing, talking people. Unfortunately, airplane cabins are where people are seated in crowded spaces for long periods of time.
While leisure travelers think they can afford to discount the risk, business travel has come to a virtual standstill.
“Business travelers won’t return in force until their travel managers and senior management are confident that employees’ health safety can be protected,” says Henry H. Harteveldt, travel industry and consumer analyst, researcher and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group. An employer has a responsibility to ensure that the employee is able to get to and from a destination safely. “That ‘duty of care’ extends to health safety with the coronavirus still very active,” Harteveldt notes.
AIR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION
All airlines and airports have instituted more rigorous cleaning methods. The Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Florida has launched “TPA Ready” addressing social distancing, mask usage, plastic shield barriers, surface disinfection and touchless transactions, all designed to slow or stop the spread of germs and viruses.
The shields are being installed in key high-traffic areas, including ticket counters, TSA security checkpoints, boarding gate, and concessions counters. Social distancing markers have been placed on the floor by ticket counters, boarding gates, and other common areas. Terminal seating has been reduced, and all employees are required to wear face masks.
Airlines are trying to mitigate the risks of sharing respiratory droplets by requiring face masks, but anecdotal reports of most airplane passengers flying bare-faced are everywhere on social media, prompting the industry to tighten face covering requirements.
As this goes to press, Airlines for America has issued new directives for member airlines to insist on passenger compliance with mask rules, and imposing consequences for failure to comply, up to and including suspension of flying privileges. To supplement customer-provided masks, the Department of Transportation is distributing 100 million face coverings to airports, rail hubs and transit agencies.
On Delta, face masks are required starting at the check-in lobby and across Delta “touchpoints” including Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges, and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight. All flights now board from back to front. And most recently, the airline has established a Global Cleanliness division under its customer experience department.
In a memo sent June 11 to Delta SkyMiles members, CEO Ed Bastian promised, “Through September 30, you can rest assured that you won’t board a full plane, as our seating capacity is capped at 60 percent and middle seats are blocked to allow space for safer travel. This ensures passengers will have an empty seat next to them on every Delta flight.”
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