COVID-19 - The American Airlines Flight Cleaning Process
Welcome to the next article in our series from our tour with American Airlines. So far we have talked about the new check in process with American Airlines and what TSA looks like now.
After we made it through TSA we were off and heading to the gate where we were going to get to see one of the cleaning crews clean and turn around a plane that was bound for Austin in 45 minutes. What we were going to get to see wasn’t anything special or staged for us, this was just what they do everyday.
We met with John, who works with the cleaning company that cleans all of American Airlines planes, and he began to explain the process of what they went through to figure out the best way to clean planes safely once COVID-19 hit.
He said that they started by taking what was traditionally their overnight cleaning process, their highest cleaning process, and they figured out what they could remove and take down a bit in order to clean these planes between flights. They did hundreds of hours of times studies to see what was manageable. They asked themselves: what can we address? What can we remove? What kind of man power will it take to get a plane turned around safely?
Well they finally came up with their answer. Prior to COVID-19 planes received what they call an “aesthetic” clean in between flights. This cleaning took them about 5 minutes and about two staff members. Now after COVID-19 this cleaning takes about 15-18 minutes and 5-6 staff members.
Each time a plane lands and is due to take back off the plane will be cleaned extensively in between. This crew of 5-6 team members will come on board, take out any remaining trash and then begin the process of disinfecting everything. They do not just disinfect where people sat, they disinfect everything, so that 100% of the plane is cleaned. They walked through all the possible touch points in the plane and now they systematically work their way through them. They wipe down arm rests, window shades, tray tables (both sides), seat belts (both sides), overhead bins (inside and outside), magazine holders, all upholstery, touch screens and more. They use one type of disinfectant through out the whole planes except on glass surfaces, where they use another. Their disinfectants are hospital grade.
They also upgraded the galley cleaning. Prior to COVID-19 the galley area, where the flight attendants work, would just simply have the counter top wiped down for crumbs and then, maybe, the coffee pot areas would be cleaned up from spills. Now it goes through a much more thorough process. The cleaning crews wipe down all surfaces, trays, and latches in the galley. They also wipe down the phones, touchscreens and jump seats that the flight attendants use. They even wipe down all emergency door handles and windows, and clean the floors.
The only thing in the cleaning process that has not changed is the cleaning of the lavatories. The cleaning process that they routinely went through prior to COVID-19 was so thorough they did not need to be updated.
Again, this cleaning process is done every time a plane lands during the day, then at night each plane undergoes an even more extensive clean. At night they still clean everything, but they then also come through the plane with the electrostatic sprayers to add another level of clean to the plane. They did demo for us what this process looks like.
An electrostatic sprayer takes the disinfectant solution in the gun and atomizes the chemicals to a positive charge. Then when they spray the solution out of the gun the positively charged atoms look for negatively charged particles and they wrap themselves around it. By doing this the solution will adhere to the surfaces and wrap around, so that every little crevasse is covered. I know that sounds sciencey, but basically picture the most positive person you know meeting a very sad person. What are they going to want to do? Hug that person and cover them up. That’s what this spray does. It hugs all the little places and covers it up to protect it.
The spray takes 4-5 minutes to fully dry. Once dry it actually sits on the surface and actively kills anything that touches it, like viruses, mold or bacteria. This spray will keep killing things for up to 14 days, but that doesn’t mean that they only spray the plane once every 14 days. They still spray the plane down each day and this is what they call compound cleaning.
At night they will also go through and clean the cockpit area and make sure that it is fully cleaned and ready for the next morning.
The entire process was actually pretty incredible to watch. We did ask if they felt that this process would become the new normal standard and they did believe so. They said they couldn’t see how they could go back even after the COVID-19 situation is gone.