Former FDA Chief: There’s 3 Things Airlines Should Do To Protect Passengers And Crew (But They Aren’t)

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA administrator from 2017-2019, has been a helpful source on coronavirus. He was one of the first people with a real microphone sounding the alarm about lack of testing in the United States.

He gave an interview where he talked, among other things, about airlines not doing enough cleaning and not doing enough to keep employees safe.

Gottlieb says airlines aren’t doing enough, focused instead on getting a government bailout.

There’s things that the airlines could be doing to implement better infection control on the plane and inspire more confidence that they’re just not doing. But they’re running around Washington talking about the impact that this has had on their volumes and the economic impact, and probably laying the groundwork for another bailout … and I don’t see them doing anything proactive to actually control the circumstances.

He focused on 3 areas where airlines were falling short, based on his own travels.

  • “I was on a[n American Airlines] plane Saturday, and I got on a plane, there was no Purell (hand sanitizer) when I got on the plane. They didn’t hand me anything when I got on the plane.”

  • “The (flight attendant) was passing things around without gloves on, wasn’t changing gloves.”

  • “They could be building in more time between turns of planes to do deeper cleanings.”

American has had hand sanitizers at international gates. I wrote over the weekend about failing to provision gloves.

When I covered which airlines had ramped up the cleaning of aircraft it appeared that Alaska Airlines was doing the most, cleaning even domestic aircraft more in between flights (but only at hubs when planes are on the ground for over an hour).

International planes are getting more cleaning, and there are plans that some airlines have to do even more for those aircraft, but for the most part domestic aircraft are getting additional cleaning at best once a night.

More turn time between flights is exactly what I hoped for last week, noting that reduced schedules should allow for this.

(HT: @crucker)

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, 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. My husband (72) is flying domestically, then internationally. in a few days. I’m 59 and I will be flying 3 domestic segments, then 2 international segments, shortly thereafter.

    We are prepared with masks, gloves, and Purell for all our traveling needs, start to finish. We are assuming the absolute worst, because that is what we have come to expect with American airlines.

  2. On anything under 6 hours, they ought to just skip the catering and beverage service altogether, for the safety of the staff and pax. Less chance for cross contamination. Bring your own if you want it.

  3. Gottlieb is right about the airlines but wrong about testing. Testing is completely unnecessary unless people need medical care due to complications and respiratory distress. if someone has symptoms of an illness they should just stay home for 2 weeks to recuperate and not have contact with people. Testing does nothing in this case. I myself had a sinus infection and pharyngitis and laryngitis twice in 3 weeks. I avoided contact with my family or anyone while it went away.

    Of course airlines are worried about the economic impact but there is not much it can do medical or containment wise. They should have stopped all flights from East Asia 3 weeks ago and all flights from Italy 10 days ago when it became clear Italy was a hotspot. The airlines could stop the spread by cancelling all flights for two weeks and everyone staying home for two weeks aside from essential workers. But they aren’t going to do that.

  4. Easier said than done when items are out of stock. I haven’t seen hand sanitizer anywhere for a good week. Similar for masks and gloves. And I’m not in an area that has been hit much at all.

  5. I was on AA from ORD-DCA on Friday and there was still trash in the seat back pocket and the middle seat beside me was sticky from what appeared to be soda or juice spilled. If these are “enhanced cleaning procedures,” we are in big trouble and airplanes are perfect places for coronavirus to spread.

  6. I’m flying internationally (SA), then Hawaii within the next month. I’m “high risk” on basis of age only. However, I feel I’m safer traveling than on my job in a busy hospital where I estimate my eventual exposure risk to approach 100%. I’d like to see TSA allow for pax to bring aboard the regular size hand sanitizers, should you be lucky enough to find one. Or gel soap. A surgical mask isn’t protective, and if virus is spread by aerosol/droplets gloves are of little value. However, they may make you more aware so you don’t lick your finger, rub your eyes, etc. I’m not sure, but am considering wearing an N95 mask. I’m not a person to worry over every health scare, but this one is definitely worthy of the utmost respect.

  7. Alaska still needs to up their game – I was just on SEATPA roundtrip this week in first class and experienced the following:

    – No gloves worn by flight attendants while handing out drinks/food/picking up trash
    – Passengers allowed to touched all the basket food options before picking what they want
    – No cleaning of bathroom door handles during 6 hour flight
    – Minimal washing of hands by FAs
    – My Tray table not cleaned during TPA turn

    I realize there is a shortage of gloves that probably affects FAs from wearing them often – but Alaska needs to still due the minimal steps inflight like stop letting pax rummage through the snack baskets. FAs should hand out the items so at least 12+ folks arent all touching them.

    Also – yesterday TPA airport had WAY more signage and purell stations than Sea-tac, which was shocking considering the amount of cases in the PNW at this point.

  8. Johnson Wayerson-The first person diagnosed with COVID-19 was a man than flew into Seattle on January 22, 2020. He didn’t know he had the virus. He took public transportation home into Seattle then to Snohomish County, WA. He went to the hospital 2 days later. He is an American Citizen also. Stopping all flights 3 weeks ago wouldn’t have helped.

  9. One area I don’t see anyone talking about is Southwest’s practice of having FAs prep the seats between flights. I watched them resetting the seat belts and was somewhat horrified. What part of the plane does EVERYONE touch? Seatbelts, and having FAs go through, touching many of them, throughout the day, and then serve drinks etc… if I had a process I would change that’s where I’d start… Bad enough cleaning crews but at least they’re not the same people making drinks…

  10. @JohnsonWayerson:
    There are two possibilities for the inanity of your comment. I’m going to cut you some slack and go with the idea you’re just trying to insult out intelligence, because the only other alternative is that you really are that stupid.

  11. I took care of my son, his wife and their 4 year old back in November when all three were sick with the (regular) flu. I washed my hands incessantly and kept my hands out of my mouth, etc. and never got sick. And, no, I had not had a flu shot. It’s really not rocket science and far more people get sick from the regular flu anyway . ..

  12. @Christine: The mortality rate is 10x that of the flu. Right now far more people get sick from the “regular flu” (which is actually hundreds of strains for which the current year’s immunization is 40-60% effective in a GOOD year) resulting in 15,000 to 60,000 deaths per year. Just what we need is an already-mutated virus , for which we have no immunity, that kills 150,000 to 600,000 more people per year.

    On the other hand, this will make Medicare and Social Security solvent .

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