Will Cleanliness Change Passengers’ Travel Habits In The US?

Historically, passengers have selected airlines based on their own set of criteria. One thing that has rarely been considered, however, is how clean that airline is. With the coronavirus pandemic creating new priorities for people everywhere, could cleanliness become a new competitive factor in the post-COVID world?

Will cleanliness influence who we travel with in the future? Photo: Southwest Airlines.

Choosing an airline

There are usually several factors that come into play when we chose our airline for our travels. Convenient departure times and locations, service level on board, and, of course, price, to name but a few. But with the worries of COVID ringing in our ears, could there be a new measure to consider? Cleanliness.

Airlines across the world are implementing various levels of deep cleaning, sanitization, and onboard safety in a bid to reassure passengers that it’s safe to fly again. Most of these measures are pretty similar across the board, although there is a small amount of variance with some airlines.

Most, if not all, are employing longer turnaround times with a deeper cleaning process in place. Some are fogging aircraft daily. Many have said that masks are compulsory on all flights, and some are even issuing PPE for middle seat passengers.

Middle seat privacy screens
New technology could put some carriers ahead in the safety stakes. Photo: Factorydesign

However, there’s a lot of new technology in the pipeline. UV technology for sanitization is being explored, both at the airport and on the plane itself. Personal protective screens and means of shielding seats are being developed too. In time, more solutions will undoubtedly emerge that could be seen to make one airline ‘safer’ than another.

Will cleanliness be the new measure by which we select our airline?

There are already some signs that airlines are starting to cotton on to the new demands of the post-COVID flier. Those who block the middle seat are making plenty of noise about that, as are those which plan to hand out sanitization kits or provide PPE.

in-flight service, cabin crew with mask, passenger with mask
Airlines are quick to tell us about their safety measures. Photo: Ryanair

JetBlue’s COO and President, Joanna Geraghty, spoke last week in an interview for World Aviation Festival, about her view on cleanliness as a competitive element. She said,

“The industry really tries hard not to compete on safety. There are certain things certain carriers had to do because they believe it’s important to complement their service offering. For instance, not every airline is blocking the middle seat. We’ve chosen to do that, and a few other carriers have as well. We think that’s something that’s important to the JetBlue customer based on the data that we see.

“I do think some of these things like aircraft cleanliness and healthy air and ensuring your cream members are healthy; I think there are certain things that will be a foundation that every carrier does. I think many carriers, if not all, are already doing these things.”

American Airlines, Facemasks, Coronavirus
Most airlines are aligned in what they are doing. Photo: American Airlines

Although Geraghty doesn’t see cleanliness becoming a competitive element, she does admit that it could be leveraged in the future by airlines who want to differentiate themselves. She continued,

“There will be those few things that airlines think is something unique that sets them apart because of their specific customer research or because it’s something that they want to invest in.”

No doubt, we’ll see a doubling down of marketing based on sanitization in the coming months. While it’s important we know what airlines are doing to keep us safe on board, it’s also good to remember that most are already doing a great job.

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Communication is key

For passengers, their choice of airline is likely to continue to be influenced by the usual factors – price, convenience, route, etc. However, there is the potential for fliers to be swayed by better communication. Geraghty highlighted this, saying,

“If you think about the HEPA filters, 97% of the air on board the aircraft is recirculated every three minutes, and the HEPA filters filter out all sorts of viruses, including the coronavirus. I think understanding that and sharing that with customers has been an important feature of us as one of the industry and of aircraft manufacturers.

Will Cleanliness Change Passengers’ Travel Habits In The US?
HEPA filters do a great job, but airlines need to communicate the benefits better. Photo: AirAsia

“I think greater knowledge about what a carrier is doing in terms of their cleaning protocol, and greater knowledge about the service touchpoints, greater knowledge about wearing facial coverings; I think those are the things that are going to last.”

Would you choose an airline based on its sanitization efforts? Do you think cleanliness will be a competitive factor in the future? Let us know in the comments.