Pretty much every airline is spooling out schedule cuts in response to reduced passenger demand, concerns about coronavirus and government-imposed restriction.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Etihad, Norwegian and Singapore Airlines are just a few carriers that have made serious schedule adjustments in the past few days.
Fewer planes will be in the skies, but airports remain open.
And the Transportation Security Administration, which recently confirmed that three of its
officers at Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) tested positive for the
COVID-19 virus, is finally getting into gear with security checkpoint-specific advice
TSA is reminding travelers that it is OK to bring individually
packaged alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on or checked luggage. Jumbo
containers of hand wipes are also allowed in carry-on or checked luggage, says
TSA, as are liquid hand sanitizers.
For safety reasons, savvy travelers already know to put personal
stuff such as wallets, keys, phones, loose change, etc., inside their carry-ons
and not loose in the bins going through the x-ray machines.
But those bins don’t get cleaned very often – if at all – and are
full of germs.
So, TSA is reminding travelers to keep their personal items from
touching the bins and to wash their hands as soon as possible after going
through the screening process.
Airports are continuing their efforts to stay extra clean as
If your airline cancels your flight, your employer restricts business travel or an organization cancels its scheduled conference or event, your decision about whether to go or stay home will be made for you
But if you’re in the wait-and-see mode or decide to pack your bags and go, here’s what medical experts say about avoiding germs while flying.
Before you fly
During normal times, airports and airplanes are germ-ridden places.
So, experts say now is the time to pay extra attention to the health and hygiene rules you likely practice anyway, such as washing your hands often and packing items like hand sanitizer, tissues and extra supplies of medications. You may also want to make copies of your health insurance paperwork before flying.
Travelers hitting the road in the next few days, weeks or months should double-check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for up-to-date information about travel advisories and risk assessment by country and think through contingency plans before leaving home.
“Have someone available in case you need help with emergency travel plans or need to get home quickly,” said Jonathan Fielding, professor of public health and pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles and chair of the U.S. Task Force on Community Preventive Services, established by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But keep in mind that as the virus spreads “you never know when a city you’re in or about to travel to is going to be sealed off, flights canceled, or travelers quarantined,” he said.
At the airport
At airports, germs can
linger on the screens at self-service check-in kiosks, on the bins and belts at
security checkpoints, on escalator handrails, food court tables, in restrooms
and gate seating areas.
Generally, to avoid germs at the security checkpoint, you should never walk barefoot through the metal detector, said Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona. Place your shoes on the belt, not in a bin. Put whatever you can, including your jacket, your phone and the contents of your pockets, into your carry-on instead of into a bin. And take a moment to use hand sanitizer in the post-security repacking area before rushing off to the food court or your gate.
across the country say they are increasing the frequency of cleaning routines
and the intensity of cleaning products at “high touch” areas in shuttle buses,
washrooms, security checkpoints, food courts and other areas, adding hand
sanitizer stations and taking other actions to keep passengers and employees
But passengers should
still take extra precautions. “Our studies have found that viruses can spread
very rapidly via the hands because of the large number of surfaces that you
touch,” Gerba said. He advocates washing your hands often, using hand
sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol and using disinfecting wipes on hard
surfaces in airports.
And before your flight,
“wait in the least crowded areas of the airport and try to stay at least six
feet away from anyone else,” said UCLA’s Fielding, “And try to board the plane
last, after the line has thinned, so you’re not stuck waiting in a tight space
with lots of other people as they board.”
Avoiding germs on the plane
While many airlines are
canceling flights and temporarily reducing schedules on some routes in response
to COVID-19, they are also sharing details about increased cleaning routines
and adjusted in-flight service routines on aircraft still flying.
On Wednesday, for
example, American Airlines said it was enhancing cleaning procedures on
international flights and aircraft that remain overnight at airports. “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,”
the airline said in a statement.
On its blog, Alaska Airlinesshared a video explaining how its airplanes get cleaned and noted that its crews are paying extra attention to sanitizing armrests, seat belts, tray tables, overhead controls for air vents, light buttons and call buttons, and the interior and exterior handles to lavatories.
Despite the airlines’ efforts, “I advise people to bring their own
germicidal wipes to rub down the high touch surfaces, the armrest, meal tray
and the button that makes your seat go back,” said Paul Pottinger, infectious
disease specialist at UW Medicine, the health-care system at the University of
Washington in Seattle. “It’s also mighty neighborly to offer one of those wipes
to the person you’re sitting next to.”
Pottinger doesn’t recommend the use of face masks for healthy
travelers because he says there is very little evidence to support their
effectiveness at keeping away respiratory viruses.
“If people like to use them though, that’s OK, but I worry that
they are so uncomfortable that a traveler may end up fiddling with the mask and
actually increase the risk of getting sick by forcing them to touch their face,
nose and mouth,” he said.
And when it comes to the overhead air vent, the consensus is that
having it blow air toward you is better than using it to blow air away.
“The air in the plane blower has been filtrated, which can remove more than 99% of dust and microbes in the air,” said Fielding of UCLA. “By having the vent blow on you, you create an invisible air barrier around you that creates turbulence – simultaneously blocking any droplets that may have viruses within them and forcing them down to the ground.”
Well-known airlines such as Pan Am, TWA, US
Airways and Virgin America are long gone. And in just the past two years more
than two dozen other airlines went from soaring to shuttered.
So, it is noteworthy that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines turned 100 on October 7.
The Dutch flag carrier is not only one of the world’s oldest airlines, it is also the oldest airline still flying under its original name.
It’s also the only airline where the
guest of honor at its annual birthday party is the newest version of the three-inch
tall porcelain house gifted to business class passengers flying on the
carrier’s intercontinental routes.
The history of the houses
Back in 1952, KLM began giving its first-class
passengers a gift of a miniature Delft Blue pottery house portraying a
historically or architecturally significant Dutch building.
Because there were rules and limits regarding
the value of gifts to passengers, the airline filled the houses with gin so
that they were technically not gifts but free cocktails that just happened to
be served in souvenir containers.
New editions of the souvenir houses were created on and off for many years until 1994 – KLM’s 75th Anniversary – when the airline commissioned a bonus catch-up batch of miniature houses so that the number of souvenir houses in the series lined up with airline’s age.
Now one of the airline industry’s most
sought-after complimentary inflight amenity, a new miniature Delft Blue porcelain
houses filled with Bols Genever, a popular Dutch gin, is unveiled at the
carrier’s birthday party each October 7. The new house is cycled into the
assortment of miniature houses business class passengers can choose from on
A handy app helps passengers and collectors track the KLM houses they
have, or still need. Swapping is popular and there’s a robust secondhand market
in Amsterdam shops and online, with prices ranging from about $15 for the
common houses to upwards of $550 for some of the rarer editions.
Over the years, KLM’s miniature houses have depicted everything from the home of Dutch exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari to the Anne Frank House and the Rembrandt House.
In 2014, KLM’s miniature house portrayed
the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.
Rotterdam’s Hotel New York, in the
former headquarters of the Holland America line, was the featured house in
2016. And the home in Haarlem where Dutch aviation pioneer and aircraft
manufacturer Anthony Fokker once lived was honored with a miniature gin-filled
house in 2017.
KLM’s 100th anniversary house
KLM’s much-anticipated 100th
Delftware miniature building was revealed at the carrier’s 100th
birthday party, held in a hangar at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on October 7.
The event was attended by more the 3500
people, some of whom had flown in just to be among the first to get their hands
on the newest miniature house.
The palace was built in the mid-17th century
for Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange and his wife Amalia van Solms and was
chosen to be KLM’s 100th miniature house to honor the strong ties between
the Dutch Royal Family and KLM since the airline’s early days.
The future of the KLM houses
While KLM’s Delftware miniatures
are highly collectible and closely tied to the carrier’s branding, KLM is also
committed to making aviation more sustainable.
To that end, the carrier uses electric baggage towing tractors, purchases carbon offsets, operates many flights using a biofuel mix and works to reduce waste and weight on flights.
But ditching the miniature
porcelain houses to lighten loads has not been considered.
“There are things you should do and things which you shouldn’t do. Period,” said KLM’s President and CEO Pieter Elbers, “For sustainability, we are investing in lightweight containers, trolleys, cargo nets, bottles, glasses and many other things to reduce weight on our planes,” said Elbers, “But those houses, we won’t touch.”