Today’s all-important phrase for flying Salina is “Make a Clean Getaway.”
Stressing efforts of United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines, which operates service to Chicago and Denver — and the Salina Airport Authority — “Clean” is more than covered.
Pulling from three national studies, officials can attest to those claims, and they’re confident of no pandemic danger in United jets or the M.J. Kennedy Air Terminal.
“Getting on a plane is safer than going shopping,” said Gary Foss, owner of the ArkStar Group, and the airport authority’s air travel consultant.
Terminal custodian Amy Green and Rebecca Stegman, station manager of SkyWest in Salina, “are making travel to and from Salina safe for people,” said Tim Rogers, airport authority executive director.
“SkyWest Airlines follows United’s industry-leading COVID-19 protocols for cleaning and disinfecting,” he said, referring to United’s Clean-Plus program, a partnership with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic.
“It’s putting health and safety at the forefront of the entire customer experience,” Stegman said.
The building is cleaned and disinfected daily, Rogers said, and United jets are cleaned thoroughly before and between flights.
“It’s cleaner now than it’s been before,” said Stegman, who has been with SkyWest for five years.
“Amy’s efforts and work are completed before passengers arrive,” Rogers said. “I appreciate her commitment to keeping the terminal building disinfected for them.”
Once passengers and luggage are off the aircraft, “we go in and clean all the tray tables, armrests, belt buckles and lavatory. We clean the galley area where the flight attendants work,” Stegman said. “Our main focus is the high touch points.”
Next, they go over the cabin with cordless electrostatic sprayers, same as in the terminal. “We’re passionate about what we’re doing and that includes cleaning. The aircraft is up to passengers’ standards,” she said. “We wouldn’t want to be in a position where they question whether the aircraft is clean.”
The cordless electrostatic sprayers “charge the particles and allows the disinfectant to adhere to surfaces, the touch points,” Rogers said.
Green implemented a “not on my watch” attitude from the start, and began intense cleaning before the 2019 flu season.
“I make sure to get the light switches, charging stations, chairs” and all the nooks and crannies where germs and viruses may lurk.
“I have an immuno-compromised child, and I clean the airport like he’s gonna be in it,” Green said. “I feel like if my son can be here, it’s safe for anyone. “I care about people.”
The multi-layered attack involves deep cleaning, wearing masks and social distancing, Foss said. “It’s one of the safest activities you can do because of the layers of protection,” he said.
A Journal of Travel Medicine report “highlights minimal transmission risk on planes with rigid mask policies.”
That’s why the rule is strictly enforced in Salina.
“Someone choosing not to wear a facemask is also choosing not to fly,” Stegman said.
Studies by the Department of Defense and Harvard University, are supporting conclusions from airlines that air travel is safe.
“Evidence is building through multiple studies that the risks of contracting COVID while flying is very low,” Rogers said.
Foss calls it “extremely rare.”
The DOD study “equated it to being hit by lightning,” he said. “In spite of the fact that the virus is increasing across the country, Scott Kirby (United CEO) says the virus is kind of decoupled from aircraft enplanements. They’re no longer linked.”
Before, when the virus spiked, enplanements dropped, he said, and now the fluctuations “are running more on an independent track.”
Seats are starting to fill up for the holidays, Rogers said, referring to one flight out of Salina the day before Thanksgiving.
“There are only 10 seats left on a 50-seat aircraft. That’s an 80-percent load factor,” he said.
Compare the activity to April when there were zero to single digit passenger numbers on flights out of Salina.
“The best measure in passenger confidence is in the number of bookings,” Rogers said.
Foss senses a welcome and widening gap between COVID and flight. “I think people are feeling they can manage risks by wearing masks and being cautious,” he said. “My family flies often. We will be flying this Friday and we haven’t had a problem, and I’m flying for business.”
The industry is moving forward in a refreshing way.
“We’ve missed passengers a whole lot,” Stegman said, “and we’re so excited that they’re coming back.”