Airports across the world have introduced new processes and systems to make the experience safer for staff and customers alike, but these are being implemented in ‘an inconsistent and almost shabby manner’

17 September, 2020

Airports across the world have introduced new processes and systems to make the experience safer for staff and customers, including upgraded cleaning and disinfection, enhanced airflows, social distancing, face mask usage, terminal access restrictions and PPE for staff. Although these are loosely based on guidelines provided by ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force, they can differing from one facility to another.

In most instances, the stated procedures serve to improve hygiene conditions and reassure customers and staff, but worryingly the reality of procedural success is already very varied, according to international air transport rating organisation Skytrax.

“The reality we are noting is that some of these stated procedures are either not being applied or are being implemented in an inconsistent and almost shabby manner,” says Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax, which has now added to its wide-ranging airline and airport awards with a new Covid-19 Airport Rating.

Initial audits and general observations from the company have identified – surprisingly given the severity of the restrictions in place on everyday life in some countries during the pandemic – that in some circumstances there is a clear lack of basic controls.

Despite best guidance and stated frameworks by airports, Skytrax says it has noted that passenger only terminal access in some cases is not being monitored at all; in some locations there is a lack of hand sanitiser points before and after high risk points such as check-in and security; limited or no control of social distancing in key areas such as security clearance queuing.

It has also observed dirty toilets with depleted soap, hand sanitiser, and hand towel supplies; infrequent or inadequate cleaning protocols of seating areas, and low numbers of cleaning staff; insufficient maintenance of Food & Beverage dining areas and some lack of contactless payment systems; and improper use of airport staff PPE at key contact points.

The new Covid-19 Airport Rating from Skytrax is based on an amalgam of procedural efficiency checks, visual observation analysis and ATP sampling tests, with consistency being a key determinant in the final assessment.

Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport was the first airport in Europe to receive the Covid-19 Airport Rating, securing a three-star certification, indicating an average standard of airport cleanliness and maintenance procedures. London Heathrow and Nice Cote d’Azur airports also secured the same rating in their own examinations which suggests that although a best practice system for cleanliness has been stated, the necessary cleaning and hygiene protocols are not delivered on a regular or consistent basis.

In the UK gateway’s case the early Sep-2020 audit showed some good measures relating to the thoroughness of information signage, availability of hand sanitiser, and adherence to face mask usage. However, there were found to be “too many inconsistent areas of the COVID-19 criteria” to warrant a higher rating.

Skytrax explains that airports certified with the three-star rating deliver “reasonable visual cleanliness and terminal presentation standards, in addition to disinfection and hygiene measures that deliver a 60% pass rate during scientific validation”.

This week, the international air transport rating agency has revealed Rome Fiumicino Airport is the first in the world to be certified with five-star certification for the Covid-19 Airport Rating, following a three day audit of facilities in Sep-2020. It says that the Covid-19 systems and procedures put in place across Rome Fiumicino Airport “are meeting a rigorous standard” and “verified the frontline success of the implementation for keeping airport staff and customers safe”.

Skytrax identified that the general policies relating to COVID-19 procedures are well enforced at the Italian airport with “effective signage and information systems” that have been implemented with “excellent brand cohesion and intelligibility”.

In the core areas of hand hygiene and social distancing the airport has “robust procedures in place,” it says, and importantly, this is being reinforced by a high-level of attention to terminal sanitisation at high-contact points. It noted that in high movement areas of the terminal, the airport has an in-house Bio-Safety Team of 40 staff that “facilitate social distancing and ensure compliance with face mask usage”.

To effectively manage passengers and hygiene measures, the Rome airport has consolidated operations to use its Terminal 3 for check-in and arrival, and Concourse Gates E for departure and transfer flights. Daily passenger levels remain at approximately a third of usual levels, but the open Italian border and fairly low Covid-19 rates means that the airport remains quite busy within this reduced footprint.

Skytrax acknowledges that in customer facing areas, the airport has a visible presence of cleaning staff, and the airport is testing several UV sanitisation methods which further enhance hygiene levels at high-contact points such as elevators and escalators. ATP testing of frequently touched surfaces indicated that where staff are applying maintenance this is to a good standard, and the airport continues to assess how this can improve, it explains.

The Covid-19 Airport Rating requires Skytrax audit teams to physically visit each airport and carry out the hygiene analysis and therefore at this stage the audits have been limited to Europe alone. However, airports in the Middle East, Asia and North America are expected to also be covered from Oct-2020, this subject to border opening regulations.