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In fighting COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the airlines’ new face mask requirement is a step in the right direction. But in order to fully “upgrade”, airlines will have to do a lot more to address hygiene and bacteria concerns. Planes can serve as bacterial/viral “super-carriers” and so airlines will become the key testing and proving ground for COVID-19 containment measures now and post-crisis. Here’s why: Social distancing onboard is extremely tough, of course, but the fact is that planes are not thoroughly cleaned between services and the average tray table is dirtier than the toilet. Business/first class may look nice but only a microbiologist could fall in love with airline surfaces.

Think twice the next time you eat or drink onboard. The tray table is one of the dirtiest places on the plane – in fact, a study found 2155 CFU (colony forming units) on a table compared to just 265 on a toilet flush button. Furthermore, if you think cleaning with antibacterial wipes will save you, I am sorry to disappoint you. Antibacterial wipes are helpful but not recommended as they destroy the fire retardant. As it stands right now, millions of airline passengers are still walking into a bacteria-laden environment – even with face masks on. Without the right planning and new protective measures, airlines could end up kickstarting a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Viruses represent a tough enemy as they are diabolically smart and lethally efficient. They thrive – not just because of their biological weaponry – but because they can pursue the fastest route to access and infect large populations. The 1918 Flu hitched a ride with millions of soldiers and sailors on crowded trains and ships as they returned from WW1. The result was truly horrific – more than 50 million people died of the disease worldwide, with 675,000 in the U.S. alone. Given the sheer volume of air traffic today — 2.8m passengers travel each day just in the U.S. (source: FAA) — it stands to reason that the aviation industry will step up and learn from the last pandemic and recent outbreaks including SARS, Ebola and MERS. The mistakes that defined the 1918 Flu cannot be repeated.

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Given the current COVID-19 crisis, we know that Transportation, as a whole, will need to be reimagined and upgraded. The status quo is clearly not good enough and airlines should do more than requiring face masks. They can adopt new measures (e.g. pre-boarding and disembarking temperature screening, improved sanitation regimes, onboard isolation protocols, quarantine plans with airports etc) and they can also explore antibacterial solutions that are embedded into materials/surfaces and all touchpoints.

Companies like Symphony Environmental are already on this path. The UK-based firm has developed an antibacterial additive technology that can be embedded into key plastic-coated touchpoints (like tray tables, toilet seats, door knobs etc) while also maintaining other properties (e.g. fire retardant). Given the outright fear of flying due to COVID-19, this kind of embedded solution that benefits the airline and the passenger is surely worth considering.

It is time to re-think onboard safety — starting with effective antimicrobial solutions. In fact, it is time to think about how to reimagine public hygiene in all areas with high traffic/germ density – think about all the touchpoints in hospital systems, schools/college, public transportation systems, gyms, grocery stores, ATMs, sports arenas, bars, hotels, restaurants, cinemas etc. The opportunity for a different solution and a better solution exists and it is time to pursue it.

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Photo Credit: Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)

Photo Credit: Lazarett mit Grippe-Kranken (Photo by RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)


Thanks for sharing !

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