Future of air travel: How Delta hopes to reassure passengers

"Our changes are indefinite," a Delta Executive told ABC News.

May 21, 2020, 5:31 AM

Major U.S. airlines have already implemented policies for both passengers and crew that have redefined the traditional flying experience for the foreseeable future - mandatory masks, plexiglass barriers, touchless kiosks and high-tech aircraft cleaning. ABC News got a first look at the changes Delta Air Lines has implemented aimed at reassuring travelers, many of which the airline says will remain in place post-pandemic.

At the busiest airport in the world and Delta's largest hub, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, travelers are greeted immediately with signs reminding them to keep their distance. At check-in there are multiple hand sanitizing stations, social distancing markers on the floor and plexiglass separating customers and agents.

While passengers wait at the gate, Delta is using electrostatic sprayers that disperse a disinfectant that clings to surfaces such as seats, bins, and tray tables and is "highly effective against many communicable diseases, including coronaviruses," according to the airline.

PHOTO: A man cleans a Delta plane with an electrostatic sprayer.
A man cleans a Delta plane with an electrostatic sprayer.
ABC News

Cleaning crews then wipe down high-touch surfaces in the cabin, and flight attendants must sign off before boarding can begin. If the cabin does not meet a flight attendant's standard of cleanliness based on a detailed checklist from the airline, they say they will send the cleaning crew back on the aircraft.

"This is my office," Delta Flight Attendant Aaron Gross said. "This is my home more times than not, so absolutely I want to make sure my colleagues, myself, and my family are clean as well.”

An idea from another Delta flight attendant inspired a change to the boarding process. Instead of boarding by zone, passengers sitting in the back of the plane will now be required to board first.

"I see our people doing what is necessary to make things work for our customers," Delta Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch told ABC News. "Doing what's necessary to take care of one another, doing what is necessary to make sure that this company not only survives but thrives."

PHOTO: Chief Customer Experience Officer for Delta Air Lines Bill Lentsch speaks to ABC News.
Chief Customer Experience Officer for Delta Air Lines Bill Lentsch speaks to ABC News.
ABC News

As images of fuller flights sparked health concerns surrounding social distancing, Delta is promising none of its planes will be more than 60 percent full. Delta has already slashed flights by 85 percent in the second quarter, but as air travel continues to slowly tick up, the airline says keeping that desired load factor is its first priority.

"We will look at either upgrading bigger airplanes, or we'll look at adding additional flying," Lentsch told ABC News' Transportation Correspondent Gio Benitez.

On board the food and beverage service is now a sack bag filled with sani-wipes, a snack, and a water bottle to "reduce service touch points."

Those bags are being assembled by flight attendants that are no longer flying due to the flight cuts. Other Delta employees have been repurposed to help the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sanitize bins.

The airline industry stands to lose over $300 billion globally, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and one of the biggest challenges will be "rebuilding passenger confidence."

Lentsch believes Delta's new safety measures will help.

"I would encourage them to fly," Lentsch said. "Give it a try. The experience is a very comfortable, a very safe experience, we have taken actions, even above and beyond what the CDC has recommended to ensure their safety."