Delta launches new cleaning division in response to coronavirus

Air travel passengers can expect big changes.
Air travel passengers can expect big changes.

Delta Air Lines launched a new cleanliness division to set policies and practices for cleaning and to oversee the work.

It's part of a broader effort by companies seeking to reassure potential customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Atlanta-based Delta said positions in the new Global Cleanliness division will be posted internally.

A spokeswoman said the division’s structure is still under development. Mike Medeiros, the airline’s vice president of operations and strategy, will lead the division as vice president of global cleanliness.

It's yet to be seen how the new division will change Delta's cleaning practices. The airline last month began sanitizing planes before every flight using electrostatic sprayers and it requires passengers and employees to wear masks.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the protections the airline has in place "are making an impact," and that the coronavirus infection rate among its customer-facing employees during the past six weeks has been "nearly five times lower than the national average."

Last week, the company reported one to two employees a day were testing positive for the disease.

Historically, Delta and many other airlines have used contractors to handle cleaning of airplane cabins and terminals.

Last month, Delta started asking company employees to volunteer to deep-clean airplanes, adding more rotations to the in-depth cleaning that typically occurs several times a year.

About 41,000 of Delta's 90,000 employees took voluntary unpaid leave because of a decline in airline travel of more than 80%, and many others have had hours cut. The company said more than 300 employees volunteered to deep clean the planes, and it plans to expand the effort beyond Atlanta to its other hubs.

It's not the first time Delta has had employee volunteers clean planes. The company carried out a similar effort in 2006 to boost morale and improve the customer experience, which drew some criticism because the employees were not paid. Delta said in 2006 that it was not a cost-cutting initiative.

Today, Delta is burning through about $40 million a day, is seeking to cut costs by more than 50% and bolster cleaning practices due to COVID-19. On Friday, Delta completed another $1.25 billion in bond financing, taking on more debt as it seeks to sustain the business through a long, slow recovery.

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