Every Delta Flight Will Get A New Standard Of Cleaning

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Bravo to Delta for being on top of it, and taking the opportunity. This thing is going to have many terrible consequences but also opportunities from the BRRR of pritning money for those recipients to something like this where Delta might be able to get the first brand differentiation.

  2. Both of our Delta NYC-CLT-NYC flights aboard Boeing 717s (yes, prior to Covid19 pandemic, Delta began replacing many of its NYC-CLT, NYC-RDU & NYC-CHS flights operated by regional partners using RJs with mainline 717s) March 12th & 16th were virtually spotless throughout the aircraft, which was a VAST IMPROVEMENT over many flights taken on a variety of airlines, foreign or domestic (except our flights on China Airlines late 2018 early 2019 where the aircraft were all very clean), including Delta, in recent years with dirtier aircraft becoming increasingly common in recent years except for a brief period on United in Spring 2017 just after the Dr. Dao dragging incident when our flights aboard United were also virtually spotless, even for a packed late evening departure from Newark for Easter holiday weekend on an elderly Boeing 737-700 a few days after the infamous Dao dragging incident, which was so clean that ancient 737 would’ve passed a “White Glove” test, even inside the overhead bins!

    In fact, in 2019, filthy dirty planes were becoming so commonplace, I posted reader comments here on VFTW and other industry focused publications, as well as quite a few photos of littered and/or filthy cabin sidewalls, window shades or ceiling panels from our flights last year on my Tweets & LinkedIn posts.

    For one flight last year (JFK-MCO), the cabin was so litter filled and the sidewalls so smeared with residues from what appeared to be ketchup or hot sauce, among other unpleasant looking greasy stuff that between the Tweets were made prior to pushing back from JFK and arrival in MCO, Delta assembled an army of cleaners who boarded the relatively new Airbus A321, including several with vacuums, to give that dirty bird its desperately needed cleaning!

    So, for sure, a return to clean(er) aircraft when flying is a welcome and refreshing change for the better because truth is, filthy, even occasionally, disgusting planes were becoming increasingly common in recent years while countless TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars paid by flyers were being hoarded for useless,
    wasteful, profligate stock buybacks.

  3. My last flight ( DL) was over 2 weeks ago and I must say I have never seen the rugs cleaner !! Also having only 15 people on a737 was very nice. Everyone got out their wipes and did a number On their seats,screens ,trays etc and many wore masks and gloves. Hope they can keep some or all of it up

  4. Good job Delta. Now it’s time for other airlines to copy this move to better clean planes.

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