Delta Air Lines invited APEX Media to visit Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last week, to take each step of the customer experience from airport to airplane, seeing the new protocols now in place. From entering the airport, through security to the gate area, to boarding a plane for a behind-the-scenes look at the electrostatic cleaning process that happens after every flight, it was a lesson in how to handle a worldwide health crisis and keep on flying.
Like many other US airlines, Delta has had to make numerous changes to its infrastructure, cleaning protocols and passenger policies in order to make traveling by air a safe journey in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had set our course at the beginning of the year to really go out of our way to try to remove or at least reduce those elements of the travel experience that were stressful,” said Sandy Gordon, senior vice-president of Airport Operations, Domestic Stations for the West Region at Delta. “And once the pandemic came, we continued on that route, to make sure that at least [travelers] can feel as comfortable and confident as [they] possibly can, when coming back to travel.”
The 30-year Delta employee recounted her first time travelling during the pandemic. “As we went into the airport [at LAX], I remember being a bit apprehensive – this from somebody who was intimately engaged in all of the protections that we put in place for our people and our customers. As we came through the airport, my apprehension and any level of anxiety began to dissipate. I became more confident and comfortable with what I saw – and more proud about the efforts that we had made.”
Those efforts are what Delta calls their “Delta Care Standard,” which according to Gordon includes “clean surfaces and air, more space and safer service and care,” what the company calls “layers of protection” that begin as passengers enter the terminal.
“At check-in, we have Plexiglas shields installed between you and the agent and you’ll see floor space markings reminding you where to stand to give space to each other,” explained Joseph Tumpap, Delta’s general manager for Customer Service at LAX. “At our security checkpoints, all the bins are antimicrobial, resistant to viruses and germs, and wiped down after each use.”
At the gate before boarding, Delta agents explain all the changes in standards to passengers before boarding begins. “We’re one of the only airlines that I know of that has remained with the middle-seat blocking and the capacity limitations,” Gordon said.
Travelers now board 10 people at a time, from the rear to the front of the aircraft. There is currently very limited food and drink served on the plane and non-vented face coverings are required at all times. Delta created its onboard safety and cleaning protocols in partnership with the Mayo Clinic; they include frequently changed HEPA filters, hand sanitizer dispensers and a multiple-level cleaning system that includes electrostatic spraying of the cabin after every flight followed by a wipe down and a final, 44-point cleanliness checklist completed by the gate agent before boarding.
“These are things that are here to stay. This is a part of the Delta brand,” Gordon said. “There’s nothing more important to us than our employees’ and our customers’ well-being.”