For many companies, recent lockdown measures have put a pause on business travel and in some cases, resulted in a company-wide ban. But as restrictions start to ease, many are now asking “is COVID travel safe?” and “what does it look like?”.
Alongside industry peers and Focus Partners, MIDAS Travel was lucky enough to join Delta on a recent walk-through of Heathrow Airport. We experienced first hand what it is like to travel during COVID.
This should put your mind at rest. Here’s what you need to know.
VISIBLE ACTION TAKEN AT AIRPORT
Arriving at Heathrow Airport, the commitment to traveller safety is immediately clear. The first thing that greets you is a specialist station; equipped with free hand sanitiser, face masks and trolley wipes. On entering the airport, you’ll notice:
- you’re never far from a sanitiser station
- ongoing cleaning is taking place, and
- you can buy PPE kits at new vending machines
“Heathrow is retraining 100 colleagues to serve as hygiene-technicians who thoroughly disinfect the airport and answer passenger queries on the methods being used”
All traveller contact points have been considered. There are now:
- self-cleaning buttons on all lifts
- clear social distancing measures
- pre-allocated chairs, and
- well placed safety advice signage
What are the airlines doing to ensure COVID travel is safe?
There are three main areas where you will see the new airline measures in place:
- Check in / security
- The flight
STRICTER CHECK IN / SECURITY
All self-check-in machines, desks and surrounding areas are cleaned at the start of every shift. There is sanitiser at all desks and PPE kits are available. All staff are wearing masks.
Travellers are expected to wear the appropriate mask, anyone with an exemption will need to speak to a designated medic. Those with exemptions will be denied boarding if:
- their reasoning is insufficient, and
- they still refuse to wear a mask
Any non-adherence to mask wearing will be dealt with by airline staff. So, expect to see masks all round!
Security feels much the same as before, with the addition of socially distancing measures. You can also now take a 200ml bottle of sanitiser in your hand luggage.
AIRLINE ACCOUNTABILITY AT BOARDING
As with check-in, the boarding desk and area is cleaned before each shift. The airport does this first, and then the airline does it for a second time. In addition, door handles and touchpoints have NanoSeptic self-cleaning pads on them.
Delta have developed a mobile ‘Power App’ which staff must fill out before each flight. This is essentially a checklist of fulfilled safety and cleanliness actions that reports straight to the top, i.e. the Boardroom. They are empowering staff by:
- nominating area ‘champions’
- upgrading their technology to improve efficiency
- encouraging individuals to question standards, and
- committing to immediate action
Staff undergo regular temperature and COVID tests.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE FLIGHT
For many, the prospect of extended hours on a plane actually raises the most concern. So, what are the airlines doing to make the planes COVID travel safe?
Seat allocation is mindful of social distancing. You can expect to have empty middle seats and spaces between groups. This is a major plus if you like a bit of space when flying!
To get the plane ready, Delta have a 40-step cleaning process in place. Staff pull down trays, open lockers and evacuate. A specialist with a ghostbuster-style backpack then electrostatically cleans the entire plane.
This deep clean and is carried out before each flight. Airplane trays may never have been so clean! You will find wipes on your seat so you can even clean it yourself, should you feel inclined.
If you’re concerned about the quality of air in the plane, then IATA have provided reassurance. They confirm that:
- cabin air is fully renewed every 2-3 minutes
- air supplied on board is 50/50 HEPA-filtered and fresh air
- HEPA filters removes 99.99% of bacterial/virus including SARS
- air flow is top to bottom and not along the length of the aircraft
Delta have taken this one step further, and are changing their HEPA filters twice as regularly as recommended. By their own admission, their new exacting standards of cleanliness are setting the bar very high. They even said that industry associations and Governments are now coming to them for advice.
SO, IS COVID TRAVEL SAFE?
You can see there isn’t really any part of the traveller journey that has been overlooked. Whilst airports have a broad responsibility, airlines are also taking more ownership.
The new safety measures are clearly visible and you can expect many of these to be in place during your COVID flight. Should you need further reassurance at any stage, staff are there to answer your questions.
The experience demonstrated the enormity of the task at hand. Both from a logistical and resource perspective. Businesses are all working together and taking individual responsibility, as all reputations are on the line.
There are certain measures that businesses are legally required to action in accordance with current COVID travel recommendations. That said, there is also a real opportunity here. For those who embrace the challenge and use it to stand out, they will no doubt reap the long-term rewards. And, I daresay that we as travellers only look to benefit from an elevated standard of operation.
When I asked if the new measures were here to stay, the airline confirmed that the DeltaCareStandard isn’t going anywhere. This is real commitment from the industry and will result in a much-improved and more confident traveller experience.
Ceri Edwards (Marketing Manager) describing a recent visit to Heathrow Airport with Delta Airlines
If you do have any concerns over travelling during COVID, or would like further clarification, please contact your travel team for the most up-to-date information. Get in Touch