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COVID-19 safety protocols vary by airline


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When it comes to safeguarding against COVID-19, each airline is creating its own rules.

Dr. Leonard Mermel, the medical director for the Department of Epidemiology and Infection Control at Rhode Island Hospital, advised those who need to travel to be cautious. He said when it comes to flying, space is the most important thing, so choose an airline based on the distance between passengers.

“If there’s someone sitting in close proximity and you both have your mask off, that’s a particularly vulnerable time,” Mermel said.

According to Butler Hospital’s Dr. David Lowe, the air quality on planes is typically good due to frequent changes of the air filter, though air travel poses several problems and should only be used when necessary.

“COVID risk is greatest in closed, crowded spaces with poor air exchange, and filled with people who don’t wear masks or distance themselves,” he explained.

Target 12 reached out to multiple airlines to learn what cleaning procedures and protocols are in place for customers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Frontier Airlines

Senior Vice President of Customers for Frontier Airlines, Jake Filene, said they’ve stopped selling 20 middle seats on airplanes, and they’re requiring both customers and staff to wear face coverings.

He said if a customer is non-compliant, flight attendants have training to handle that. Filene explained there have been some instances where they’ve had to return planes to the gate prior to take-off, because a customer was refusing to wear their mask.

“We’ve put a number of customers on our no fly list – our internal system that would remove a customer from being able to book in the future,” he said.

Filene also mentioned they’re checking each passengers temperature at the gate, and spoke about the HEPA filtration system.

“That’s effectively hospital grade air that’s what’s used in operating rooms in hospitals, so that the air is exchanged every two to three minutes,” he said. 

Southwest Airlines

According to Southwest Airlines communications team, the airline is keeping its middle seat open until at least October 31 to create more distance between passengers.

Staff is cleaning ticket counters, baggage claim areas, and gates multiple times a day. They are also providing enhanced overnight cleaning on planes.

Southwest is requiring passengers wear face coverings unless, they have an exemption.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines, according to their website, is requiring customers to wear face coverings, with the exception of children.

They’re also limiting cabin space, which is different per each flight. On most flights they’re allowing customers to create more space around them by automatically blocking seats.

According to their website, they’re “blocking middle seats in all cabins on all aircraft, while providing the option of parties of three or more who are traveling together the ability to select the middle seat.”

United Airlines

United Airlines communication team member, in an email to Target 12, said the airline is also taking extra cleaning steps at the gate by disinfecting high touch surfaces, enabling passengers to self-scan their boarding passes, and providing hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

On board each plane the company is using electrostatic spraying to disinfect most aircraft before flights, reducing crowding by deplaning in groups of five rows at a time, and cleaning high touch surface areas with disinfectants.

The company is also requiring passengers and staff to wear a face covering and will potentially take away travel privileges for customers who won’t comply. 

American Airlines

In an email to Target 12, American Airlines said it’s also taking extra cleaning steps to help keep its customers safe. A member of their communications team sent a list of the companies cleaning protocols, including disinfecting high touch areas like seat belt buckles, air vents, armrests, and overhead bins.

They said on average a crew of five to six people will spend about 20 minutes deep cleaning prior to each flight.

The company is also requiring passengers over the age of two to wear a face covering, with the exception of drinking or eating. The company’s entire mainline fleet, including most regional jets, have a HEPA filtration system.

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