Behind the scenes. Cleaning our aircraft in the age of Covid.

By: Virgin Atlantic

January 12, 2021

When an aircraft rolls onto stand, and all our customers disembark, our aircraft cleaners spring into action. After many hours in the air, when hundreds of people have been eating, drinking, munching snacks, sleeping and using the restrooms, it can all get a bit messy. So our cleaning team swoop in and have our aircraft looking spotlessly clean in no time, ready to welcome our next customers onboard. This is an important job, and the people that do it are unsung heroes.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we’ve introduced our ‘fly safe, fly well’ programme  with a whole range of new measures to give you even greater peace of mind when you take to the skies with us. A big part of that is how we clean our aircraft cabins so that when you next step onboard, it can be with complete confidence.

Anthony Bryant oversees our aircraft interior cleaning. That’s something that’s always been important to our customers and us. But with the outbreak of Covid-19 came fresh challenges that threw cleaning well and truly into the spotlight. We caught up with Anthony to find out more about cabin cleaning and how Covid-19 has changed his world:

In the spotlight. Anthony being interviewed about our award winning cleaning regime.

What is your job, and what does it entail?
My job title is manager, cabin appearance and cleaning. I am responsible for ensuring our aircraft cabins are cleaned, disinfected, and sanitised to the highest standards before every flight. I work closely with our airport teams and the companies that do the cleaning for us. Between us, we make sure that every departure has the highest standards of cabin cleanliness and is a safe and secure environment for our customers and crew.

Tell us your story
After leaving college with a BTEC diploma in aeronautical engineering, I took on what I thought was a summer job that turned into a 24 year and ongoing career in aircraft cabin appearance. I started in 1997 at Gatwick, ironically servicing some of the original Virgin Atlantic 747 aircraft. Through the years, I worked through several roles up to Operations Supervisor before moving to Manchester in 2005 to take on a Duty Manager role. I then worked through various roles including account manager, station manager, and finally regional manager in charge of 10 UK airports. I left that job in 2018 to join Virgin Atlantic.

Describe a typical day
On a day to day basis, I spend my time between carrying out detailed audits on our aircraft to make sure they meet our exacting standards. I then analyse data on aircraft cleanliness collected from our airports, customer feedback and crew reports. This lets me track our performance and identify any trends or areas where we can improve. I plan longer deep cleans for our aircraft and continuously assess our policies and procedures to capture any changes in industry standards, making sure these feed into our suppliers. I also keep an eye on new and emerging ideas, technology and equipment that might help us with our mission.

The best part of your job?
There are so many! Travelling for sure. And I get to work with some fantastic colleagues and service providers. But the best bit is using my knowledge and experience to bring about change, and being part of the effort to make sure our customers fly safe and well on every flight. Having that recognised by my co-workers and customers brings a huge sense of pride.

One of the new processes. Electrostatic disinfection between each flight.

How did aircraft cleaning change in the age of the pandemic?
For aviation in general, the pandemic really changed everyone’s understanding of aircraft cleaning and its essential role, not just in cleanliness but also in virus control. We already had a really robust and thorough cleaning process in place, which was a good starting point. As the pandemic took hold, we were able to adapt quickly and ensure our procedures were strengthened. Our service providers worked with us to deliver an uncompromising cleaning regime that ensures everyone can travel safe in the knowledge that their aircraft has been cleaned, disinfected and sanitised.

Describe our current aircraft cleaning regime
Every one of our aircraft goes through a thorough cleaning process on each arrival at every airport in our network. We have a robust and enhanced cleaning specification that covers all customer and crew touchpoints on the aircraft. We use a highly effective broad-spectrum disinfectant cleaner across our entire aircraft, maintaining cleaning continuity regardless of location. On top of this, we’ve added an extra layer of reassurance with electrostatic disinfection on every single departure flight no matter where we operate. It is important to note that this procedure offers an enhancement to our through disinfecting process and not a replacement.

Additional to our turnaround cleans we have an industry-leading deep clean programme. Each one of our aircraft is deep cleaned every 14 days. This allows our teams to spend upwards of 10 hours thoroughly cleaning, scrubbing and wiping every surface, nook and cranny.

What were the biggest challenges of putting all this in place?
Continuity has been a big challenge through this current pandemic. With our laser focus on making sure we meet and exceed our own targets, we have had to find new ways to work and bring together service providers to deliver the cleaning quality we demand. Logistics has also been tested with making sure all airports have all the equipment and supplies needed to deliver our cleaning standards.

What would you say to a customer who was about to board one of our aircraft and perhaps is a bit concerned about cleanliness, health and hygiene onboard?
With our robust cleaning procedures, industry-leading cleaning programme, HEPA air filtration system exchanging cabin air every 2-3mins and coupled with our Health & Wellbeing kits for every customer we really do have some of the safest and cleanest cabins in the sky.

Enhanced cabin cleaning is just one part of our ‘fly safe, fly well’ programme that includes a free health pack with medical grade masks, surface wipes and hand gel.

Finally, tell us what you get up to when you’re not looking after our cleaning operations.
You can usually find me planning or photographing a vista somewhere in the UK in my spare time. However, I have crossed into aerial photography and video work. Having gained CAA approval for commercial drone operations, I have supplied aerial footage for several BBC, ITV and Channel 4 programmes. Most recently the Dr Foster spin-off, ‘Life’ on BBC.

You can see more of Anthony’s work on his website

APEX Health Safety
Cabin cleaning is just part of our fly safe, fly well programme that includes thorough cleaning practices at check-in and boarding gates. Safe distancing is also adhered to wherever possible, and mask-wearing is required throughout your journey. All customers are given a personal health pack containing medical-grade face masks, surface wipes and hand gel. We’re also offering a simplified hot food service in all cabins with meals redesigned to limit interaction. These are prepared in a Covid-safe, monitored environment.

We’re proud that these efforts have been recognised by the Diamond status award by APEX Health Safety powered by Simpliflying.

Visit our fly safe, fly well pages to discover all the additional measures we’ve put in place at every point of your journey.

Anthony is also an excellent photographer.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic

Fly safe, and fly well, with us. The health and safety of our customers and our people is — and always has been — our number one priority. At every stage of your journey, you’re in safe hands.