A new gate-to-gate study by scientists from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is the most comprehensive research to date to conclude that the layered approach U.S. airlines, including Delta, have taken to protect customers and employees from COVID-19 means the risk of exposure during air travel is very low.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed a single case of COVID-19 transmission on a U.S. airplane.

Delta boarding

“The risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard aircraft [is] below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out,” the Harvard researchers concluded. “Implementing these layered risk mitigation strategies…requires passenger and airline compliance [but] will help to ensure that air travel is as safe or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times.”

The report concludes that the universal use of face masks, diligent cleaning protocols and advanced ventilation and filtration systems offer significant protection against COVID-19, lowering the risk of transmission on an aircraft to minimal levels. 

Wearing of face masks by passengers and crew is essential

The study determined that the use of face masks was “the most essential part of a comprehensive set of measures to reduce COVID-19 during air travel.”

Delta was one of the first airlines to require customers and employees to wear a mask or face covering across Delta touchpoints at airports and onboard the aircraft. It’s an extension of our safety commitment and enforcement is a responsibility we take seriously. We ask customers to acknowledge as part of the check-in process their willingness to wear a mask throughout travel. And we insist that customers who have an underlying condition that prevents them from wearing a mask complete a “Clearance-To-Fly” process upon arrival at the airport.

Flight attendant cleaning

Deep cleaning of high-touch aircraft surfaces disinfects, removes contamination

The report’s findings also support Delta’s extensive cleaning practices, including our industry-leading commitment to electrostatic spraying of high-touch surfaces using high-grade disinfectant between flights on a daily basis. The cabin interior on every Delta flight is thoroughly sanitized prior to boarding using electrostatic sprayers – including lavatories.

Delta flight attendants wipe down high-touch surfaces in lavatories frequently during each flight,   regularly making sure lavatories are clean, tidy, stocked with supplies and ready for customers. Using kits that include disinfectant spray, wipes and gloves, flight attendants ensure the thorough sanitization completed prior to boarding stays fresh.

Ventilation systems on passenger aircraft are highly effective at refreshing, filtering air

Harvard’s research team noted the “highly effective ventilation systems” on aircraft, which mitigate disease exposure by rapid and continuous filtering and exchange of cabin air. Keeping the air clean and safe during flight is one of the most foundational layers of protection Delta aims to provide to our customers and employees. Just as we have focused on ensuring clean air onboard by replacing our industrial-grade HEPA filters twice as often as recommended, we are also committed to ensuring clean air on the ground.

Delta GSE employee with air filter

Delta is replacing the current air filtering systems that pump outside air into our jetbridges and parked aircraft with LEED Platinum MERV14 filters that result in a more than 40% reduction in air particles and cleaner air in those spaces during boarding and deplaning.

Layered risk-mitigation will ensure air travel remains as safe or safer than other routine activities

The study concluded it takes a “combination of layered infection control measures” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. And Delta has provided layers of protection from check-in to baggage claim to deliver a new standard of cleanliness, more space – including blocking the selection of middle seats and limiting the number of customers per flight into January 2021 – and safer service and care for customers and employees alike.

Read more about the layers of protection Delta provides to keep customers and employees safe here.

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