Making the personal choice to fly again

September 28, 2020 in Innovation, Technology

Family members of Michael Delaney, leader of Boeing's Confident Travel Initiative, flew on commercial flights from Washington State to Arizona in early April 2020, just as the COVID pandemic began to affect the United States.

Delaney photo

This post is by Michael Delaney, Vice President Digital Transformation at Boeing and Leader of Confident Travel Initiative, and originally appeared on LinkedIn.

It was early April and my family and I needed to fly from Washington State to Arizona for a personal matter. At that time, many Covid prevention efforts were still evolving. Top of mind for us was how to best protect ourselves during the trip – including while on the flight sitting in a tight space at 30,000 feet and breathing cabin air.

To answer that, the data- and facts-driven part of my brain kicked in. I have the benefit of more than 30 years at Boeing, which includes leading engineering for our Commercial Airplanes business. I have intimate knowledge of our airplane infrastructure and filtration system. I know that the air conditioning system is capable of providing an exchange of air every 2 to 3 minutes; I know that air goes through high-performance filters that trap nearly all virus and bacteria particles; and I know cabin air flows primarily ceiling to floor to help minimize particles spreading throughout the cabin.

Still, the emotional aspect of air travel was there. Sitting close to other people during a pandemic made for an unpredictable situation. It’s why we also took matters into our own hands – literally. We brought hand sanitizer, wore masks and carried disinfectant wipes to clean all of the airplane cabin surfaces we could.

Yes, cabin air is exchanged more often than other modes of transportation and in places like your home or office – but we also had a duty to protect ourselves. We took into account the end-to-end journey we were on. That from the moment we left our house, entered the airport, went through security and boarded the airplane, we would follow all guidance and take precautions.

This included ensuring we felt well enough to fly.

I’m proud to lead Boeing’s Confident Travel Initiative team, and that aspect – preventing Covid or any illness from ever entering an airplane – is the first layer of a plan that our team and the entire industry promotes. If you feel sick or have symptoms, don’t get on an airplane. To this end, we’re working with airports, airlines, aviation partners, universities and hospitals to exchange ideas and make data-based decisions on prevention efforts and overall approaches for your entire trip.

You might see temperature screening checks at airports. We continue providing guidance to our airline customers on the most effective and safest onboard cleaning procedures and sanitizing chemicals to use. We’re testing new technologies for cabin cleanliness as we look to continuously improve our approaches. We are leading modeling efforts to confirm or give new insights on how a virus might “behave” on an airplane. We approach this like we would any other potential threat to travel – with thorough testing that results in data-based decisions.

Many airlines have taken additional steps for crew members and passengers, such as offering masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Mandating the use of such PPE and where passengers sit – whether to block off any seats – is ultimately up to each airline. We support their decisions based on all the layers of protection the industry and regulators are already instituting. We also work closely with and support our partners. I encourage you to check out our new Boeing website to see those partnerships in action, learn more about our airplanes and use helpful resources as you prepare for your next flight.

Health experts agree, as does Boeing, that all efforts cannot entirely eliminate risk. For that reason, our recommendations and approaches might evolve as our industry collectively learns more. And believe me we will all adjust quickly as needed. Our Boeing team and I will be sharing updates here and in other forums, so please look for those.

On that trip to Arizona and back to Washington State, my family and I flew on Boeing and Airbus airplanes. We made it safely and in good health. In the end, the decision to fly is a very personal one. When you decide the time is right, remember you play an important role in your own well-being – so take the proper precautions and know the entire aviation industry is also working together to ensure you have the safest and healthiest flight possible.