Airline industry hurting amid pandemic

(NBC) Before the pandemic, more than two million people passed through TSA checkpoints on a typical day. Since then, we have yet to hit a million. Many people still wonder how safe it is to fly right now. So, CNBC’s Shepard Smith went in search of answers.

Peter Loparnos has been flying for American Airlines for 34 years. “It looks like this is the—if you can call it—normal,” he said. “This is the new normal, as abnormal as it is. We’re doin’ the best that we can do to get the passengers back on the airplanes.”

From handrails, to seat air vents, to lavatories, the cleaning process is more rigorous than ever before. Jessica Tyler with American Airlines said, “The entire thing is wiped down and cleaned with really, hospital-grade disinfectant.”

But what about what can’t be wiped down? Like the air inside the cabin? Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt said, “The air in a modern aircraft, is probably cleaner than the air in your own home”

Here’s why: on a plane, the air you breathe is actually a combination of fresh and filtered air that flows through vents in the ceiling and the floor. Half of it is passed to the outside, while the other half goes through HEPA, or “high-efficiency particulate air” filters, which remove more than 99% of viruses and bacteria. This filtered air is combined with new, outside air, before making its way back into the cabin.

Loparnos said, “So you have an exchange of new air every two to four minutes. These are the same filters they use in hospitals.”

Air filters are made even more effective by wearing a mask, a requirement of every major airline, but not federal law.

And then there’s that recommended 6 feet of social distance. Is that even realistic on a plane? Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said “on an airplane, no matter what you do, you cannot properly socially distance.”

Plenty of planes are currently flying with fewer travelers. Like Loparnos’ flight to Dallas with more than two-thirds of the seats empty.

For more on the fragile state of aviation, tune in to Smith Reports: Air Travel in Turmoil on Wednesday, October 14 at 10 p.m. PST on CNBC.

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