Last month, I did a conference call with Boeing executives and airline reporters about the Boeing Confident Travel Initiative. One of my big takeaways was that airplanes that are equipped with HEPA filters make flying much safer and reduce the risk of passengers contracting COVID-19. That is, of course, if you don’t have someone sitting nearby that has it.
On the call, one of Boeing’s suggestions for keeping passengers safe was that airlines run those filters not just while in flight but throughout the whole boarding/deplaning and taxiing processes, as well. And United Airlines is now going to be the first (that I’m aware of) implement this procedure.
According to United, in a press release: “United Airlines today announced that the carrier will now maximize air flow volume for all mainline aircraft high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems during the entire boarding and deplaning process, helping further reduce the spread of COVID-19. In combination with the HEPA filters, the air conditioning and pressurization system onboard United’s mainline aircraft recirculates the air every 2-3 minutes and removes 99.97% of particles – including viruses and bacteria during both ground and air operations – making the air onboard a plane significantly cleaner than what people typically experience in restaurants, grocery stores, schools or even some hospitals. United pilots and ground staff are working to implement this new procedure for mainline aircraft beginning July 27.
“On commercial aircraft, fresh air flows downward into the cabin from ceiling vents and exits the cabin at the floor and sidewalls. That air is then routed through the HEPA filters and mixed with fresh, outside air before returning back to the cabin. According to Boeing, that top-to bottom pattern, and frequent air exchange helps minimize front-to-back air movement and reduces the potential for spread of contaminants from people, such as through sneezing or coughing. The system replaces the entire volume of cabin air every 2-3 minutes by providing 50% HEPA filtered, recirculated air mixed with 50% outside air, which allows a constant flow of either fresh or HEPA filtered air throughout the cabin.”
Dr. James Merlino from The Cleveland Clinic said, “HEPA filters are an effective way to ensure clean air on an aircraft” and that “United’s new strategy of running the air filtration and circulation systems at maximum volume well before passengers board and until they deplane, adds one more layer of protection. In addition to air filtration, we have worked with the airline to enact measures such as mandatory masking, health screenings, disinfection, and touchless systems, as we believe layering on precautions, more than any one strategy alone, helps create the safest environment possible.”
Obviously, I think this is a great move and I hope other airlines follow suit. If I were to fly, which I haven’t since late February, this new policy might sway me towards a United flight. However, Delta and Southwest’s policy of blocking the middle seat makes them even more attractive. I would still try to book a flight last-minute on a plane that doesn’t have a lot of passengers. That’s one reason to keep some extra miles in your account because a last-minute ticket will most likely be expensive if you’re paying with cash.
Updates to United’s face mask rules
Today (July 22), United also tightened its face mask rules. Per a press release:
“United Airlines today announced that customers will be required to wear a face covering in the more than 360 airports where the airline operates around the world. This includes United customer service counters and kiosks, United Club locations, United’s gates and baggage claim areas. If customers refuse to comply, they may be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place. This will be effective for all customers traveling on and after July 24 regardless of when their ticket was purchased. United also will strengthen its mask exemption policy by only excluding children under the age of two. If a passenger believes that there are extraordinary circumstances that warrant an exception, they should contact United or speak to a representative at the airport.”
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But is united still committed to filling the middle seat?