Investor Strategy

Delta pitches itself as the safe choice for pandemic travel by tackling coronavirus risks in the plane, at the security line, and on the jet bridge (DAL)

Like just about every airline, Delta is working to convince passengers that it’s safe to fly during the coronavirus pandemic. It started off with the plane itself, blocking middle seats and spraying disinfectant on a regular basis.

Now, Delta is tackling the next part of the travel experience: the airport.

The Atlanta-based airline announced two new safety and sanitization initiatives at airports this week as airlines prepare for a stall in demand recovery between the summer and holiday travel seasons.

Delta said it would replace the air filtering systems on the jet bridges that passengers use to walk from the gate onto their planes, and announced new anti-microbial bins at security checkpoints at five of its hubs. The moves come as travel demand remains severely depressed over the same period in 2019. Airlines are desperate for demand to grow as they continue to bleed cash.

Although airplanes recirculate some cabin air, almost all aircraft are outfitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air, or “HEPA” filters, which are highly effective at removing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other microbes from the air.

On the jet bridge, however, and on parked planes, air typically isn’t filtered. Delta said that it would add MERV-14 filters to those air systems at 31 airports by mid-September, and at more airports in the coming months.

Although MERV-14 filters are not as effective as HEPA filters — they reduce air particles by 40%, according to Delta, instead of the 99.7% filtration that HEPA filters provide — it’s still a significant improvement over having no filters at all. It was not immediately clear why Delta did not use HEPA filters, although those more effective products are in high demand as schools and universities reopen.

The airline also said it would offer the anti-microbial security bins at five airports: Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, and New York JFK. It has several hubs and focus cities (think mini-hubs) that did not make the list, and said that it “will evaluate opportunities for expansion to other markets following the launch in these cities.”

The new bins, according to the airline, come with antimicrobial technology that “prevent[s] the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria.” While COVID-19 is a virus, not bacteria, the new bin design also “continuously minimizes the presence of microbes throughout the bin’s lifecycle.”

On its aircraft, Delta will continue to block middle seats on board flights and limit capacity — something shown to reduce COVID-19 infection risk by half — until at least January 2021. It has also introduced new cleaning procedures between flights. Other airlines, including Southwest and JetBlue, are also blocking middle seats, while United and American have introduced robust new cleaning procedures.

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