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The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak continues to impact daily life around the world, with new containment measures announced on an almost continual basis by authorities from Paris to Peru. As anxiety around how the virus has spread across the globe has grown, airlines have been forced to cut frequencies on some routes, cancelled operations to certain destinations altogether, and suspended previously stringent rules around amending or cancelling bookings.

In a bid to reassure travellers that it remains safe to fly, the airlines have also been very proactive in showing how they rapidly adopted stringent disinfection regimes as demanded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with enhanced cleaning processes mandated across all airlines.

Deep cleaning and enhanced onboard hygiene

Standard practice is for aircraft to receive a basic clean through during the ‘turnaround’ phase of their daily operation – with rubbish cleared away, linens changed and tray tables, window shades and arm rests wiped down. For international flights, the process tends to be more thorough as the turnaround time is longer. Airlines follow a fairly standardised cleaning regime, and often take aircraft out of service completely for a deeper clean.

As the COVID-19 crisis has taken grip, however, airlines around the world have stepped up their sanitisation practices, working closely with international agencies like the WHO to establish robust cleaning and hygiene protocols to try and limit the virus’ spread. These include:

  • Isolating passengers who are demonstrating any of the symptoms linked to COVID-19, such as a high temperature or persistent cough, by a distance of at least two metres, and providing them with a face mask – and surgical gloves and protective clothing for crew who tend to them
  • Disinfecting porous and non-porous surfaces any symptomatic passengers have come in to contact once they have disembarked, including seat covers, seat belts, tray tables and light control, crew call and entertainment device buttons, and any other surfaces throughout the aircraft such as in the bathrooms – in addition to an enhanced clean-through of the aircraft as standard between each flight and a daily ‘deep clean’
  • Disposing of any items that cannot be cleaned
  • Running the HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters) that remove dust, bacteria allergens and viruses from the air onboard the aircraft during the cleaning process. These are standard on all aircraft, and are designed to remove over 99.5 per cent of the airbourne particles, and provide a complete change to the air inside the cabin up to 30 times an hour, pulling fresh air from outside the aircraft in as part of the cycle.

Some airlines have even begun ‘misting’ aircraft, by using machines that aerosolize a high-grade disinfectant on to every surface, coating everything with a fine layer that kills and protects against germs. Others are getting passengers to do their bit, issuing disinfectant wipes to use on the seat and surfaces around them throughout their flight.

Other measures include halting the distribution of heated hand towels in First Class, using fresh cups for drink refills, and sanitising cutlery, crockery and glassware, complimentary headphones, and dining and beverage carts.

Airlines are fighting back, and publicising their efforts. A great example is this video from Emirates published this week to help give its passengers peace of mind.

Service suspensions

In a bid to try and limit the spread of COVID-19, airlines around the world have taken unprecedented steps to reduce or suspend services – either voluntarily or when mandated by changes in government policy. An example of this is President Trump’s directive to close the US to flights from the EU Schengen Area for 30 days – excluding those from the UK and Ireland, unless the passenger has been within the Schengen zone within the last 14 days.

Many airlines have introduced flexible policies around cancelling, amending or rebooking flights free of charge. This means that travellers can book with confidence knowing that they will not lose their money if they wish – or are forced – to change their plans.

Service suspensions and operational changes are now so widespread, and changing with such frequency, that it’s almost impossible to list them all. For ease, we’ve summarised some of what we know below, and provided links to the airline websites themselves for further information. Whichever airline you are booked with, however, our service team is on standby to help with any questions you have.

Doing our bit

The wellbeing of our customers at Netflights is our top priority. As the Coronavirus outbreak continues, our advice is to follow the health guidelines from the WHO, the travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and to keep up to date with Netflights’ essential information, which we’re updating daily and sharing on social media.

We know that that Coronavirus is spread from person to person via mucus and saliva droplets. These droplets can spread directly from an infected person, but can also live on hard surfaces for many hours afterwards and it’s this extended scope for transmission which we can all do our bit to control. For tips, read our article on how to maintain good ‘flygiene’ when you’re travelling by plane.

If you’re concerned about any travel plans, please read our FAQs about Coronavirus.