Delta CEO: Aircraft cabin air is ‘7 to 10 times’ cleaner than typical grocery store

Ed Bastian says there is little risk of contracting COVID-19 aboard a Delta flight.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian is touting the air quality on the carrier’s aircraft and assuring passengers that it is safe to fly, as the airline seeks to add back capacity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on the Masters of Scale podcast, Bastian said the industry is slowly crawling back from the worst of the pandemic-related demand drops and, eventually, will emerge from the current crisis. “Travel is picking up,” he said. “We bottomed out in mid-April with less than 5% of our normal traffic. Today we’re starting to approach 15-20%.”

Delta is capping load factors on all flights at 60%. “No matter what seat you are in on the plane, you will have the seat next to you open,” Bastian said. “As we approach the 60% load factor on planes, that’s our signal to add more flights. We’re adding 1,000 more flights a day to the schedule, doubling our domestic schedule.”

Bastian said Delta replaces 50% of the air in the aircraft cabin every 2-4 minutes with fresh air coming from outside the aircraft. “I tasked our team to measure the air quality on board our flights and we’ve been traveling with sensors on a number of flights and what they’ve found is indeed the quality of the air you breathe aboard our planes is somewhere between 7 to 10 times cleaner than a baseline measure of the grocery store you shopped in yesterday or a retail establishment or an office building,” he said. “It is even meaningfully cleaner than the air in the airport or on the jet bridge where you were boarding from.”

Bastian said vulnerable people should not travel. But for those who are healthy, he emphasized how safe it is to fly aboard Delta aircraft and that there is a low likelihood of being infected with COVID-19.

“For people that are looking for adventure, who want to get away, who want to go visit family, or if there is business to be done, candidly I’ll tell you there is not a safer time to be on an airplane than right now,” Bastian said. “We have no known transmissions on Delta of the virus to anyone. None. Zero. Safety is in the DNA of this company. There is not a safer form of transportation in the world than the US airline industry. We have a culture that is prone to caution. We have a culture to be able to address this.”

Bastian said load factors will be capped at 60% for the foreseeable future even though it means flights will be money-losing in the here and now. “Obviously, you can’t make profits at 60% load factors,” he said. “We know that. No airline is making money in this environment because the demand is so low. Our goal is to bring demand back, to bring confidence back. I’d rather maximize confidence and bring more flying back at a lower load factor than trying to maximize load factors. So that’s our strategy. Fortunately, we’ve got the financial capability to weather the storm … This is a time that defines your brand, it defines your relationship with your customers and what you stand for. We believe once the pandemic is solved, there’s going to be a future.”

Photo credit: IATA