The Safest Airlines To Fly During The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Laurie Werner,

Whether it’s truly safe to fly has been a recurring question since the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread earlier this year. Airlines responded with enhanced cleaning techniques, state of the art HEPA filters, mask requirements and the risk of being banned, as Delta Airlines has put in place, if you refuse to wear one, scaled down meal and drink service to minimize the time those masks are off, staff outfitted in hospital grade personal protective equipment. Whether these airlines are actually adhering to these stated practices is a central issue in the rating system devised by Skytrax, a 31 year old U.K. based international air transport rating organization.  

“We see it as important to introduce reality and accuracy by providing COVID-19 airline safety ratings based on actual travel experience and assessment,” according to Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax. “Airlines are in the midst of the most challenging time in their history, and encouraging customers back onto flights involves not only changes to PCR testing, quarantine and country travel policies, but also in being able to demonstrate the necessary level of assurance for their COVID-19 measures through independent and professional assessment.”

The audit team went through four months of specialized training before analyzing a variety of an airline’s routes and its hub airport. Given travel restrictions and border closures, the company is conducting research on a regional basis starting with Europe with other regions to follow. (In the meantime, the company has a list of worldwide airline procedures ) From that research, the company named British Airways and Lufthansa as the first airlines to be certified with a 4 Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating earlier this month. The procedures that rating covers include at the airportcontactless technology, surface contamination levels on high touch areas, customer handling, and social distancing protocols for check-in, boarding, and arrival. Airline lounges were also rated for cleanliness, social distancing measures and safe delivery systems for food and beverages. On board, cleanliness levels, service systems for catering adapted for COVID-19 times, with reduced contact delivery and enhanced food safety measures for meal presentation were rated.

The two airlines are also involved in the latest efforts to enhance safety in flying: COVID testing of passengers pre-flight, either at the airport or with at home tests. Lufthansa introduced RT-PCR tests at airports in Frankfurt and Munich in October. British Airways in conjunction with its oneworld partner American Airlines announced a trial testing program yesterday on flights between the U.S. and the U.K. The free tests will initially be offered to passengers starting November 25th on American’s flight AA50 from Dallas Ft Worth International Airport (DFW) to London Heathrow (LHR), British Airways flight BA114 from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to LHR and British Airways flight BA286 from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to LHR. American’s flight AA106 from JFK to LHR will also be included at a later date. The trial will consist of three tests, the first an at home RT-PCR test from LetsGetChecked to be administered 72 hours before departure with passengers obtaining a nasal swab under supervision by medical professionals in a virtual visit. After landing at LHR, a second test will be administered by a medical professional and the passenger will be given an at home testing kit to take a saliva sample 72 hours after arrival.

American Airlines has also been active in pre-flight testing for its flights from DFW to Hawaii and Costa Rica launched in October with plans to launch testing from Miami International Airport to Jamaica, The Bahamas and Costa Rica. United Airlines also offers tests pre-flight from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue have pre-flight testing in addition.  Ostensibly they serve the purposes of passengers who have to show negative tests for entry to a destination but obviously one clear aspect of safely flying is the condition of the passengers around you as well.

Read original story on Forbes.