Learn the Ways That Airlines Combat Germs on Board

It's a scary time for travelers, but carriers are doing their best to keep passengers safe.

Cleaning Airplane
Photo: RJ Sangosti/Getty Images

Even as the novel coronavirus spreads, the travel industry continues to shuttle anxious fliers to and from their destinations. But, with a growing number of travelers questioning whether or not it’s safe to fly and more countries implementing travel restrictions, airlines are trying to reassure passengers that their planes are as hygienic as possible.

CNN spoke with a variety of experts to get a handle on what it is that airlines are doing to sanitize their planes during the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Christian Rooney, the manager of JetWash Aero, a specialist aviation cleaning company, the cleaning process varies based on the schedule of the aircraft. When aircrafts have a tight turnaround between flights, only the basics (think: trash removal) are attended to. Nighttime is when the disinfecting takes place.

"A basic but more thorough cabin clean is usually carried out at night—or when there is more downtime—and it includes the cleaning of toilets, wiping down and disinfecting of trays, cleaning galleys, [overhead bins], seats etc. This may take up to an hour or longer," Rooney explained to CNN. "An airline will also always schedule a 'deep interior clean' every month or six weeks. This clean takes several hours and is extremely thorough."

And the cleaning products and disinfectants airlines use are up for the task, offering antimicrobial protection for up to 10 days.

"Some of the disinfectants we use are effective against a wide range of pathogens and are known to inactivate complex viruses with similar properties to SARS, E. coli, avian flu, MRSA etc," Rooney added.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in Vanderbilt University's division of infectious diseases, told CNN that he doesn't think there's much more carriers can do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. That’s because transmission most often occurs person to person.

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While it’s still wise to wipe down surfaces Schaffner stressed that ultimately, it's handwashing that is the most important preventative step. And if you can’t wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer.

"Even if there is virus in the inanimate environment, it's not going to jump off the seat and bite you in the ankle. You've got to touch it, and then touch your nose or your mouth," he explained. "So, it's those hands we have that are the important intermediary—and that's where I would put the emphasis. Use those wipes on your hands. That's the important thing."

This jives with the official advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that, “because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contain 60%–95% alcohol.”

So, if you do have to travel in the coming weeks, experts say to stay vigilant. That means pack hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face, and use anti-bacterial wipes on your seat and tray table. And keep in mind that not a single case of COVID-19 has yet been attributed to on-board transmission.

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