For years airlines have cleaned planes less than you probably think. Between flights it’s usually been just a quick clean between flights, picking up the most obvious trash but not even getting everything out of seat back pockets. First flight of the day has been the cleanest – less pressure to get cleaners on and off quickly so that planes don’t sit much between flights.
When times have been tough cleaning is an area that airlines cut back. Coming out of bankruptcy Delta wasn’t deep cleaning planes more often than every 12 to 18 months. After United emerged from bankruptcy they publicly committed to deep cleaning multiple times a year instead of every 18 months.
In the best of times though deep cleaning didn’t happen more often than once every month or two, cleaning carpets, lavatories, overhead bins, and tray tables. In some cases deep cleans would only coincide with taking a plane out of service for scheduled maintenance.
That’s all going to have to change. Customers used to complain about dirty planes. When people start to fly again it’s going to be make-or-break. Even as airlines face tough times they’re going to have to clean planes more because this will be top of customer minds, and key to selling the safety of air travel.
A month ago airlines had ramped up cleanings but it was striking that the increase hadn’t actually amounted to much.
Now Delta is catching on to the moment. They will begin overnight fogging of domestic aircraft (which they had started doing a month ago with international widebodies), and starting in May they’ll fog after every flight.
Without many flights operating, and no need for tight turns, they don’t face pressure to skip cleaning for on-time departures.
I don’t expect this level of care to continue once people return to the skies, planes return from storage, and airlines begin facing operational pressures again. But cleaning is one area airlines aren’t going to be able to skimp on and retain customers. Past recessions saw cutbacks in cleaning. This one will have to see increased investment in cleaning.
Starting now is easy, and signals that you take it seriously. Going forward expect to see more hand sanitizer (hopefully this doesn’t become just a benefit for extra legroom coach or first class). Expect to see visual indications selling how clean an environment airlines are providing.
DFW Airport Terminal C
In some cases airlines control the terminals they depart from. Those will be easier to manage to a greater standard of clean. Shared terminals will rely more on airport management, and airlines may have to strong arm some of them. As much as airlines will need to conserve cash, the new reality could even turn around American’s decision not to pay to refresh bathrooms at Dallas Fort Worth.