Keeping Covid Out of The Cabin
Bloomberg Businessweek|January 24, 2022
As the pandemic enters Year 3, airlines are stepping up their hygiene routines
By K. Oanh Ha and Kyunghee Park, with Ragini Saxena and Justin Bachman. Edited By David Rocks. Photography by Air India; Boeing

In that long-ago time before the pandemic, most travelers chose an airline based on a single, straightforward factor: price. And those who didn’t grab the cheapest fare typically steered their business toward a carrier where they had frequent-flyer miles. Cleanliness, by contrast, barely registered.

These days, hygiene is the most important factor in choosing a travel company for almost 60% of Americans, according to a survey by aerospace products manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. That tracks with International Air Transport Association data showing that passengers worry about boarding planes, with 42% of them uncomfortable using lavatories and more than a third concerned about breathing recirculated cabin air. “We know that our customers are more conscious than ever about hygiene,” says Anil Jain, engineering chief at Air India Express, which has introduced robots to clean its planes. “We need to be proactive.”

Gone are the days when airlines could get away with quickly picking up the trash and wiping down the galley between flights, doing a deep cleaning only once a month or so. As the pandemic sent revenue into a tailspin in the spring of 2020, most carriers stepped up their hygiene game in hopes of convincing travelers that it’s safe to fly. They began touting their hospital-grade HEPA filtration systems that bring in fresh air every few minutes. And many planes now get a serious cleanse every day with virus-killing chemicals, antibacterial foggers, electrostatic sprayers, or ultraviolet lights that zap germs. But with the omicron variant of the coronavirus wreaking havoc worldwide as the pandemic enters its third year, consumer fears about cleanliness are spiking again.

A UV light wand is used to disinfect the cockpit of a Boeing plane

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