Airlines are engaged in hygiene theater, cleaning surfaces and promoting electrostatic spraying. I appreciate the cleanliness and hope it sticks around after the pandemic. But the CDC and other research suggests surfaces aren’t a key vector of Covid-19 spread.
Social distancing guidance was based on the idea that large respiratory droplets are the primary way that the virus spreads, and those droplets fall to the ground quickly, so staying six feet apart from others is a good prophylactic. Masks help with large droplets.
However increasingly researchers are concerned with aerosolized spread or airborne transmission, which means that smaller particles of the virus are traveling further and staying in the air longer. And to address this, distance is less important than ventilation and filtration. And aircraft refreshing cabin air every few minutes and HEPA air filters which capture most virus particles are the best mechanism to protect against this.
In other words it just so happens that the mechanisms airlines have had in place even before the pandemic turn out to be the best measures to protect against Covid-19. That isn’t to say the virus will never spread on a plane, with as many flights a day and as many passengers a day travel worldwide (even with far fewer flights and passengers than before the pandemic) it’s almost certain to happen sometime. But being on a plane is one of the safest indoor environments possible. The airport terminal, indoors and without the same ventilation and filtration, is another matter.
Cleaning is still worth doing, even if virus spread via surfaces isn’t as significant as once thought or as much of a spread vector as aerosols, it can still reduce transmission. And sitting next to someone shedding the virus for hours on end still represents real risk, though remains statistically unlikely to spread Covid-19. However if the main mechanism of virus transmissions is aerosols as many increasingly think then social distancing doesn’t help – but air filtration does.