AUSTIN, Texas — If you're trying to decide whether it's safe to fly, you're not alone. Air travel was down 96% at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Austin.
But airlines are putting in behind-the-scenes work to try to make the experience safe for travelers. Between each flight, crews take special steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"The amount of safety precautions that we take on an aircraft, I feel I would fly every day," said Jill Courtney, the general manager for United Airlines at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Last July, United had nearly 255,000 passengers coming and going from Austin. But this year, that number dropped 87% to just under 29,000.
"I think that unsureness of flying is going to be there regardless of everything you have because you always wonder what's going to happen," Courtney said.
But United is trying to take care of that uncertainty with stepped-up safety measures that begin before you even step onto a plane.
The check-in machine is now touchless, and flyers have to agree to the mask policy and confirm they don't have coronavirus symptoms or a positive diagnosis. When boarding a plane, passengers now get on from back to front.
Each aircraft has at least one HEPA filter, but the bigger the plane, the more filters it has. Those get rid of up to 99.7% of contaminants that might be in the air – in fact, they are the same filters that are used in hospitals.
Air is circulated through the filters every few minutes. How often they get replaced is based on the number of hours the aircraft flies.
In between each flight, all the tray tables inside the cabin come down to prepare for electrostatic spraying. Cleaning crews race onto the empty plane to make sure all the places that were touched often are sprayed down. As the potent spray comes out, it expands in the air and clings to surfaces for disinfecting.
United bought more than 750 electrostatic sprayers, which are also used in hospitals. Other airlines, including Delta and Southwest, also use the spray.
"If people follow the guidelines and the policies that the airlines have in place for them to fly with us, I think that will, you know, [be] for the greater good of everybody to feel confident in flying," Courtney said.
United has also partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox to help with data and cleaning procedures for travel.
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