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VERIFY: Are airlines cleaning their planes to fight against coronavirus?

The latest strain of coronavirus has caused thousands of deaths, mostly in East Asia. This has many flyers worried about how planes are cleaned.

WASHINGTON — Question: 

Are airplanes cleaned after flights, to protect against coronaviruses?


Yes. While there is not a uniform policy, that all airlines must follow, all of the major airlines that the Verify Team spoke with said they do some type of cleaning.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The World Health Organization

The International Air Transport Association

Airlines For America

Seven American airline companies (United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Website, Spirit Airlines Website, Alaska Airlines Website)


With Spring break fast approaching, there are a lot of people with concerns about the latest strain of coronavirus. 

A viewer named Linda, reached out to the Verify Team, asking whether airplanes are cleaned after international flights to combat the new strain of coronavirus. 

To find the answer to this, The Verify team spoke with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, a pair of trade associations, and seven domestic airlines. 

The WHO wrote that airlines should always clean as if there was an infected person on board.

"Considering that it may be difficult," the organization wrote. "to identify an aircraft carrying an infected person, the focus should be on the assumption that all aircraft are periodically occupied by infected travelers and therefore require routine and frequent cleaning and disinfection." 

The CDC also updated their guidance, in response to the spread of the virus. The agency recommended that all airlines "follow routine operating procedures for cleaning" if there are no symptomatic passengers. 

If there are symptomatic passengers though, the CDC recommends that airlines use "enhanced cleaning procedures," including the cleaning of surfaces within six feet of any symptomatic passengers. 

Despite these recommendations, the cleaning policies are up to the airlines, according to the International Air Transport Association. The trade group wrote that it is not aware of any "uniform policy or federal requirement regarding specific aircraft cabin disinfectant measures." 

Here's what each of the seven airlines are doing to combat Coronavirus:

American Airlines:

In a March 5 update, American Airlines wrote that they are using a "structured cleaning regimen," that exceeds all CDC guidelines. The airline wrote that they are cleaning each day at "key touchpoints on their journeys."

"We are are enhancing our cleaning procedures on international flights and aircraft that remain overnight at an airport. This move which will touch the majority of our aircraft each day, includes a more thorough cleaning of all hard surfaces, including tray tables and armrests." 

AA also wrote that most of their aircraft are equipped with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, that provide a "complete air change approxiimately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every two to four minutes. 

"Our international flights continue to receive a deep level of cleaning, which includes disinfecting of lavatories, tray tables, and galley areas, as well as any surface areas throughout the aircraft. Floors are also vacuumed."

United Airlines:

In a recent update, United Airlines said that they are cleaning their aircraft throughout the day, using a "thorough wipe-down of all hard surfaces touched by customers and employees, including lavatories, galleys, tray tables, window shades and armrests." 

"United uses an effective, high-grade disinfectant and multi-purpose cleaner," the message wrote. 

United also uses a "state-of-the-art" circulation system, which they said was similar to what can be found in hospitals. United said this process will remove up to 99.7 percent of airborne particles. 

United also plans to start incorporating what's called a "electrostatic fogger to disinfect the air and surfaces within the cabin on all international arrivals" into U.S. hubs. 

Delta Airlines:

On their website, Delta wrote that they have consulted with the CDC, WHO, and other health organizations to ensure that they are meeting health-related guidance. 

"Our aircraft cleaning teams are trained to meet Delta's high cleanliness standards," the message wrote. 

In the message, Delta wrote that the airline uses "an EPA-registered disinfectant on all flights which is rated to combat many communicable diseases." 

Delta is also using fogging procedures on all trans-Pacific flights arriving into the U.S.

"We are working rapidly and have sourced additional machines to expand fogging to inbound international flights, prioritizing trans-Atlantic inbound flights from markets with reported coronavirus cases." 


In a statement on their website, JetBlue said that they are 'stepping up cleaning and sanitizing procedures" on their aircraft. This includes "disinfecting common surfaces more frequently" at their airport terminals. 

JetBlue has also added additional disinfecting wipes to provide to customers onboard. JetBlue has also suspended their hot towel service, in response to the spreading virus. 

"We know the coronavirus situation is evolving," the airline wrote. "And we are working hard to make sure we're prepared." 

Southwest Airlines:

On their website, Southwest Airlines outlined what they are doing to combat the latest strain of coronavirus. 

"In addition to tidying each aircraft between flights," the airline wrote. "We spend more than six hours cleaning each aircraft every night."

As of March 4, the airline enhanced their overnight cleaning procedures, using hospital-grade disinfectant throughout the aircraft. 

"These procedures meet or exceed recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)." 

Southwest Airline's planes are also equipped with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, which "filters out recirculated air onboard each plane to remove airborne particles."  

Spirit Airlines:

On their website, Spirit Airlines offered an outline of what actions they are taking to combat the Coronavirus. 

"Spirit follows Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines," the airline wrote. "And remains in close contact with authorities to further ensure the safety of our Guests and Team Members." 

Spirit wrote that the airline is using disinfectants, which have been approved by the EPA as effective against the latest strain of coronavirus. All of the airline's planes are also equipped with "state-of-the-art" high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that "capture 99.97 percent of particles." 

Alaska Airlines:

On their website, Alaska Airlines wrote about what they are doing to combat the latest strain of coronavirus. The airline also released a video, demonstrating their cleaning techniques. 

"It's extremely important," said Celley Buchanan, the Director of Station Operations at the Airline. "It's our first priority."

 The Airline has implemented an "enhanced aircraft cleaning process" on their flights that are on the ground longer than an hour. 

"We're focusing more attention on the areas of the cabin which are touched most frequently," said Buchanan. "Such as arm rests, seat belts, tray tables, overhead controls including air vents, light buttons, call buttons and exterior and interior door handles to lavatories."  

Every Alaska Airline aircraft also uses High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which are believed to be effective in killing 99.95 percent of particulate contaminants in the air. 

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