September 23, 2014 | Kendall Creighton Plane Filthy Tuesday, September 23, 2014 With the Ebola outbreak in the back of passengers’ minds, we look at standards for disinfecting commercial flights – or lack thereof. What do airlines do to keep planes clean? It’s a muddy area without clear regulatory standards. The FAA says it doesn’t regulate or inspect cleaning. Airlines say they set their own standards, without regulators, and give instructions to contractors. They use chemicals approved by aircraft manufacturers and conduct their own quality-control inspections. Carriers don’t report what they spend for cleaning, but some have said when they are squeezed financially, they reduce costs in that area. With nearly 800 million people flying this year, “commercial air transport is potentially an efficient means for spreading communicable disease widely by surface contact and proximity to infected people,” the World Health Organization cautions in its Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation. Some airlines are reluctant to discuss how much cleaning their airliners get, wrote Scott McCartney recently in a WSJ piece. Typically, planes get a once-over straightening-up between flights and usually a more thorough cleaning overnight or between long international flights. Periodically planes get scrubbed from nose to tail when they undergo major maintenance work. Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights said, “Airlines are exempt from all state and local sanitary laws that protect travelers in other places of public accommodation.” He continued, “The FAA is the only enforcer of federal regulations, and since enforcement by the FAA is minimal to non existent, the main enforcement is by whistle blowers, customer complaints and media exposure.” Delta and United Airlines say their aircraft that fly in and out of crisis zones such as western Africa are cleaned with disinfecting solution per guidelines from WHO. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued guidelines for protecting crew members and reporting ill passengers. Airlines say they are complying. Medical studies have shown that air travelers face higher rates of infection. One study pegged the increased risk of catching a cold at 20%. Much of the danger comes from the people within two rows around you. But viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces. Some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated. Seat-back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins, dirty diapers and trash, can be particularly unhygienic. As USA Today’s Christopher Elliott wrote last week, every 18 months to two years, depending on the plane’s flight hours, the aircraft gets what’s called a “C Check,” during which the plane is basically taken apart piece by piece and put back together. Every month, each aircraft is given a “deep” cleaning, where seat covers are washed and the entire cabin is sanitized using government-approved cleaning agents. Health experts say you can’t contract an infectious disease such as Ebola via urine on a seat or dried blood, Elliott reported. You may be at risk if an infected person vomits on you, but not usually in the case of contact with residual vomit. As for Ebola, there have been no cases of passengers contracting it on a plane in the United States, says Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade organization. “The possibility of transmission is extremely low,” she adds. VIPs Off-Loaded By Angry Passengers Recently, a video went viral that shows the power of some good old-fashioned civil disobedience. Delayed passengers awaiting takeoff on a Pakistan International Airlines flight confronted and booted off the perpetrators, two high-level politicians. Pakistan’s ex-interior minister Rehman Malik thrown off plane They expelled a Pakistan People’s Party leader and his MP friend who kept passengers waiting for over two hours. Such delays to scheduled flights to suit the whims of “VIP” politicians are not unusual in Pakistan but the depth of resentment they cause was finally revealed in this video clip, which showed passengers confronting the lawmakers as they finally arrived. Many praised the passengers for denouncing “VIP culture”. See the full-length video here. Earn ‘Em And Burn ‘Em New York Times journalist, Josh Barro, ran a piece recently on the decline of the mileage run – the playground of die-hard business travelers and scourge of the airlines. It’s worth a read. Mileage runners aim to buy tickets with the lowest cost per mile and extract as many points as possible from them. This game has not made much economic sense for the airlines, in fact it costs them millions in revenue. So United Airlines and Delta Air Lines turned the tables on the gamers and increased the number of points required to get a reward ticket, which makes frequent-flier miles less valuable. And they’re not giving out as many promotions in which travel earns extra bonus miles. They’re also changing the definition of “frequent-flier mile” so it no longer has anything to do with distance. Starting in 2015, fliers on each airline will earn five “miles” for every dollar they spend on airfare, regardless of where they go. As FlyersRights members know, loyalty programs don’t make much of a difference to the basic fact that, when every plane is overcrowded, airlines don’t care much about passenger faithfulness. Announcement The public comment period on the DOT proposed rule regarding transparency of airline fees to ticket sellers and the public has been expended to Sept. 29th. FlyersRights generally supports this proposed rule which has been in the works since 2010 but will note in its comments section that the rule is weak, complex and fails to address any of the other matters covered by the FlyersRights Airline Passenger Bill of Rights – (repeal of the de facto exemption of airlines from all state and local consumer protection and most tort law, measures to reduce excessive travel delays, measures to strengthen return of or compensation for lost/stolen property, funding of the previously authorized passenger hotline, arbitration or small claims adjudication of passenger claims, passenger representation on airport governing boards, and restrictions on reductions of frequent flyer benefits without adequate notice and disclosure of actual benefits granted). Paul HudsonPresident, FlyersRights Tell the DOT here that consumers have the fundamental right to know the upfront cost of their entire trip, and not be surprised at the airport with extra fees from the airlines. Your Letters A big aggravation with air travel is paying $25, $50, $100 or more to check your luggage, then turning into a skeleton at the carousel waiting for your bags to finally appear. It’s a lot of wasted time an money. FlyersRights member, G.G., is speaking up and fighting back. He’s penned a letter to the top brass at United Airlines and we’ll run their reply. Here was his situation, we’ve all been there. A 90 minute flight Chicago O’Hare to Washington National, arrives on time or a bit early. Then 45 minute wait for luggage to arrive on carousel. First our flight number was displayed on carousel monitor, then another flight was displayed. Then (after long delay) PA system apology for delay. Then (after another long delay) bags arrive after our flight displays again. This was bad enough when bags traveled free but really, it’s outrageous, when we’ve paid for bag checking. I understand this might be UA, or National Airport, or team screwup. But for it to take half the flight duration to deliver bags from plane to claim ought to at least get bag check fee refunded. Fat chance, of course but I’ll gripe to UA/National and see what happens. Thanks for what Flyers Rights does for us all! We Need an App Developer! The FlyersRights.org app needs a new programmer/developer with an Apple account, where you can assume management of the account for FlyersRights. It’s a very simple tab control app with html content. It will need to be available on the Apple app store as well as the Google Play site, so customers can capture on both Apple and Android devices. Our previous developer will be happy to forward all the source code to the new developer. You’ll likely be able to add more bells and whistles which were beyond our previous developer’s capabilities. Contact Kendallc@FlyersRights.org for more details. Thank you! FlyersRights Needs A Proofreader Owing to a heavy workload, one of our two longtime proofreaders for the Newsletter has had to drop out. The job entails checking the draft on Monday afternoons and sending suggested corrections to Editor Kendall by about early Monday evening Mountain Time. Volunteers are requested. Can you commit to doing it every week? And thanks to Lee for his longtime service. Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone: 1-877-FLYERS6 The FlyersRights HOTLINE! FlyersRights.org depends on your tax-deductible contribution. Kate Hanni, founder with Paul Hudson, President Get the best of FlyersRights’ articles, links and conversation, delivered each week to your inbox! FREE!