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United Airlines takes multi-layered approach to assure safety for customers, employees

Company partners with Cleveland Clinic, Chlorox
Posted at 9:30 AM, Aug 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-15 15:52:29-04

DENVER -- Business is slowly picking back up for the airlines, but some customers are still hesitant to fly, because of the pandemic.

United, the biggest airline at Denver International Airport, has launched a program called United CleanPlus to assure passengers that it is safe to travel.

The program is the result of a partnership between the airline, Cleveland Clinic and Chlorox.

United's Vice President of DEN Operations, Matt Miller, said United CleanPlus is designed so customers have the best, safest experience from the lobby all the way through onto the airplane.

Miller gave Denver7 a tour to show all the steps United is taking to keep passengers and employees safe.

"First we make sure that customers have a mask to wear," he said. "If they do not have one, we have plenty of masks to offer them."

When asked about those who refuse to wear masks, Miller said there are policies in place that will allow customers to change their travel plans.

"Ultimately, if they decide they do not want to wear a mask on board, we will refund their ticket and ensure that they're able to fly a different airline, but it is a requirement, for United, to wear a mask."

Miller said one of the biggest innovations is "touchless" check-in and boarding.

"You can just walk up to the kiosk, scan your boarding pass and it will automatically print out your bag tags for you," he said, adding, it's the same at the gate.

Customers will notice social distance markings on the floor and employee "temperature check" stations.

Each United employee stands in front of an infrared camera as they begin their shift, and is given a color-coded sticker to apply to their badge, indicating they "passed" their temperature check.

Customers are required to acknowledge they don't have symptoms for COVID-19 and to follow airline policies.

Miller said there are some new requirements at TSA security, which involve briefly removing your face mask as the TSA agent checks your ID.

As passengers board the plane, they'll be given a sanitizing wipe.

During our tour, we noticed all the tray tables were extended and exposed, as were all the luggage bins.

Miller said that's so cleaning crews can wipe down every surface and then sanitize them with an electrostatic sprayer.

In the cockpit, crews use ultraviolet light to sanitize the avionics.

"The electrostatic spraying is used in hospital rooms and other disinfected areas on all hard surfaces," Miller said, "but components of the cockpit are very sensitive to any chemicals, or any wiping down, we use UV."

He also said that meal service has changed.

Each "meal" comes in a sealed plastic bag which includes a bottle of water, pretzels and biscotti cookies.

"As we've continued to learn, working with the Cleveland Clinic on what's safe, we have started adding back amenities like coffee and tea, ice and alcoholic beverages," he said.

Miller also pointed out the high efficiency HEPA filters on board the aircraft.

He said this particular Boeing 777 has 8 filters, which recirculate all the cabin air in two to three minutes, and remove 99.7 percent of all microbes.

Sneeze Guards

Miller said the plexiglass sneeze guards at all the kiosks, ticket counters, and boarding gates were fabricated at United's DIA Hangar.

Sr. Maintenance Supervisor Les Adamczyk said it was an urgent undertaking.

"You could find these online," he said, "but they were very expensive, long lead times, so they came to us and said can you do it fast, and that's what we did."

He said he's proud of his team which took the raw material and made 5,000 to 6,000 in record time, for United operations in 350 cities.

"This was a huge undertaking and a huge priority for corporate," he said. "They said get them done. Get them done fast, and get them done at a good price."

Miller said the COVID pandemic has changed the entire industry and the way we travel.

"We have spent countless hours with Cleveland Clinic and Chlorox to determine how we're going to travel safely for both our employees and customers. We've insured now that we've got a safe mode of transportation for our customers."

When asked how long these safety practices will remain in effect, Miller replied, "We're going to continue to do this as long as needed, because until there is a vaccine and widespread use of that vaccine...this will be a way of life for us at United."

He said they want to instill confidence in customers that United it taking all the steps necessary to make them feel safe when they fly.

Miller wouldn't give a figure on how much the extra steps are costing the airline.

He said, "We're spending a lot of time and effort into cleaning and figuring out the right processes to do, but we never put a dollar value on safety as an airline, and we're certainly not doing that when it comes to the steps we're taking to keep our employees and our customers safe."

He said United has 265 flights a day out of DIA, which is about 50 percent of their capacity.

He said they will bring more planes back into service as the demand grows.