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OM in the News: Read this Blog Before You Fly!

February 9, 2018

Last month, 2 people with measles flew into O’Hare Airport

Is there anything air travelers despise more than a flight delay? Perhaps sitting in a dirty airplane or next to someone who is coughing, sneezing or worse. Passengers have experienced all kinds of affronts to personal health and hygiene in the tight quarters of an airline cabin.

Now, imagine the complex choreography involved in cleaning a Boeing 737 with more than 160 seats in just the few minutes between the plane’s arrival at the gate and its departure, writes The New York Times (Feb. 6, 2018). It’s a grueling task, and the stakes are high.

A passenger’s greatest health risk on an airplane may come from exposure to fellow travelers. And the risk of spreading diseases increases if surfaces in cabins and bathrooms are not adequately cleaned. Airlines typically hire outside companies to perform “quick turns” (the cleaning between flights) and overnight cleaning, as well as deep cleaning, which occurs about once a month.

But cabin cleaners describe a work environment where pay is at or near the minimum wage, morale is low and turnover is high. “To clean, we need 10 to 15 minutes, but they give us 6 or 7, or even less time for quick turns,” says one crew chief. A 2015 GAO report states:  “the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan aimed at preventing and containing the spread of diseases through air travel.” Part of the problem is that airlines have created an incredible disincentive for travelers to alter their travel plans when they are sick by charging high change fees, so people who are sick fly. The CDC says “the greatest risk for the spread of infectious disease on airplanes was from passengers.”

What can you do? Take cleaning matters into your own hands. Buy medical-grade hand sanitizers and carry a travel package of disinfectant wipes to wipe down the seat and surfaces that you touch.

Classroom discussion questions:
1. How is this an OM issue?

2. What suggestions do you have for improving the quick turn process?

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