EU to recommend spacing out passengers, mandates aircraft cleaning

March 14, 2020
COVID IATA borders

Airline passengers should be spaced throughout the cabin on flights that are not full and provided single-use disinfection wipes under new guidelines to be issued by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

EASA said the guidance on spacing out passengers “where possible” and issuing disinfectant wipes to allow passengers to further clean their seats “for personal reassurance” would be published shortly.

The safety agency on Friday issued a pan-European aircraft cleaning directive it says is the first EU-wide operational measure to control the spread of COVID-19.

READ: Trump’s COVID-19 ban could see more airlines fail

The EASA directive requires thorough disinfecting and cleaning of aircraft operating from high-risk destinations after each flight.

Exceptions are made only when airlines use a longer-lasting disinfectant is used but aircraft will still need to thoroughly disinfect a flight 24 hours after departure from a high-risk airport.

The rules are aimed at standardizing across the EU procedures many airlines have already adopted.

“We need to reassure the passengers, the airline crews and the airport staff that their health and safety is our top priority,” said European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean. “EU is taking concrete measures to limit and to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

The directive comes after the US slapped a ban on foreigners traveling from Europe from midnight Friday, prompting airlines to radically cut trans-Atlantic capacity.

The ban affects anybody who is not a US citizen or permanent resident and has been in the Schengen group of European countries in the past 14 days. It does not apply to the UK.

EASA will define the high-risk areas based on information such as the World Health Organization situation reports, guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and regional public health assessments.

It also recommended that airlines operating on all routes step up the frequency of cleaning and disinfection and ensure the thorough disinfection of any plane that has carried a confirmed coronavirus victim.

Airport operators should similarly disinfect terminals regularly, it said.

“This directive reaffirms the commitment of aviation to combatting the spread of the novel coronavirus,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky.

“We are aware that many airlines have already enhanced their cleaning procedures, and member states have put additional measures into place.

Given that air transport is by its nature international – and we are dealing with a global pandemic – standardization at European level will make these measures even more efficient.”

EASA also recommended that cabin crew who had direct contact with a confirmed case be placed under a 14-day quarantine.

“Other crew members on the same flight, or who came into contact with a suspect case, should be asked to monitor their own health and react quickly at the first signs of infection,’’ it said.

“These measures will help to slow the spread of the disease and will support business continuity for flight operations, by ensuring staff do not pass on the virus to colleagues.”