Health Safety Innovators: Aeromexico and Fiji Airways are Sanitising Luggage

In this series, we’re taking a closer look at the airlines that have been certified under the APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying programme. We believe that health safety is about cooperation, not competition, so our goal is to share some of the most interesting and unique approaches to airline health safety.

Over a year ago, following the release of SimpliFlying’s report on ‘The Rise of Sanitised Travel,’ we wrote an article predicting that “sanitagged bags” would become a prominent feature of air travel. 

Fast-forward to just over a year later and during the APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying audit, we’ve found multiple airlines have included luggage sanitisation in their health and safety procedures.

Diamond-rated Fiji Airways sanitises all checked bags as part of its Travel Ready programme. The carrier began the process on 10th October, 2020, the first day it conducted passenger flights after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased and borders reopened. 

“While a lot of focus was placed on spatial disinfection, personal sanitisation and person-to-person contact, we realised early on in our assessments that checked baggage was also a touchpoint that could prove to be a potential risk due to multiple handling,” explained a Fiji Airways spokesperson.

The airline’s sanitisation procedure takes just 10-15 seconds per bag using a fogging machine and Calla 1452 phosphate-free disinfectant. The spokesperson continued, “After the passenger has checked in and bags are transported through the conveyor belt system, they are fogged prior to being loaded into the unit load device (ULD), which is the container for luggage in the aircraft’s cargo hold. Once bags are in the ULD, they do not come into contact with anyone until they are offloaded at arrival.” 

Fiji Airways uses multiple fogging machines as required, which means it can sustain the exercise when passenger numbers increase. “We will always go above the minimum requirements to protect the wellbeing of our customers and our staff, and that includes service providers who handle baggage at airports,” the carrier states. 

Under its Health and Sanitization Management System, Platinum-rated Aeromexico also sanitises luggage before it is returned to passengers. The carrier began the process, which takes less than one minute per bag and involves virucide spraying, in June 2020. 

Aeromexico explained, “We know the risk of COVID-19 spreading through contact with surfaces is low. However, we apply the highest safety standards … to take care of customers and employees at every step of the journey, including baggage delivery.”

With rumours of a travel bubble between Australia and Fiji still circulating, and IATA predicting a return to 100% of pre-pandemic domestic air traffic in Mexico by the end of this year, it’s possible both airlines will be sanitising significantly more luggage in the near future.

As both carriers acknowledge, the measure is not considered a vital component of any COVID-19 prevention strategy, with numerous medical reports, including those on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, stating that surface transmission is unlikely. 

On the other hand, scientists continually state that surface transmission isn’t impossible. Combine this with the fact that deep-cleaning measures make travellers feel more comfortable. A Nature article from January 2021 that considered the evidence around COVID-19 surface transmission referenced a study carried out by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, wherein three-quarters of participants said that cleaning and disinfecting made them feel safe when using transport. 

Viewed in this light, Aeromexico and Fiji Airways’ luggage sanitisation processes seem like a smart move. They aren’t time, labour or cost intensive, but impact passenger perceptions at a time when passengers are acutely aware of the need to take extra health safety precautions.

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