Alaska Airlines to use UV light to fight COVID-19 as passengers raise other concerns

VIDEO: Alaska Airlines to use UV light to fight COVID-19 as passengers raise other concerns

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Airlines are working to attract passengers back to air travel, including adding new UV light cleaning technology and working to get all travelers to wear masks.

But the moves come as at least two airlines that fly out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, American Airlines and WestJet, announced they will no longer be blocking off middle seats to provide passengers with more social distance.

“This was my first flight back from the pandemic,” Tiffany Fetters, a sales manager for a medical sales company said. “In first class, out of nine people, four were not wearing masks.”

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Fetters has to travel a lot for work, and on an Alaska Airlines flight last week from Phoenix to Seattle, she was surprised by the lack of face coverings.

She said she was struck by “the frustration from the flight attendants.”

“I politely asked, ‘Hey, you know, aren’t they mandatory?’ and the look in his eyes was, I can’t make them do anything.”

Fetters said the people in front of her were leaning back to talk to the person across the aisle from her. None of them, she said, were wearing a mask.

On Friday, Alaska Airlines sent a statement to KIRO 7, writing: “We rely heavily on our guests doing the right thing for the greater good of everyone onboard our flights. When faced with a situation of non-compliance, our flight attendants use their training to help guide them on how to respond and to learn more about why a guest is not wearing a mask or face covering. We’re evaluating other methods to ensure compliance, and working with our unions on the best ways to do that.”

The airline has been touting its steps to protect passengers from COVID-19, including upgraded cleaning policies and, as of June 30, requiring customers to agree during check-in to bring and wear a mask during the flight. It is now testing new UV light technology from Honeywell.

“This is the first product that’s actually specifically designed using what’s been used in hospitals for decades, which is UV light,” Honeywell Aerospace General Manager Brian Wenig said. “UV light has been proven effective for many years on reducing other types of viruses -- there are no studies available as of yet on the COVID.”

Alaska is also blocking off all middle seats on large aircraft and aisle seats on smaller aircraft through July 31.

That’s something American Airlines is now halting, moving to book flights to capacity starting July 1. It will be notifying customers and allowing them to move to more open flights when available, without cost.

WestJet, which will also stop blocking off the middle seat on July 1st, cited guidance from the International Air Transport Association, pointing out its installation of HEPA filters to help clean recirculated air and the direction of airflow from ceiling to floor in addition to its cleaning steps.

American, which has also intensified its cleaning, has enforced its mask policy. It even took a man off a flight earlier this month and banned him for refusing to wear one.

Tiffany Fetters said she’d like to see flight attendants on Alaska with the power to do the same.

“The part that I think really infuriated me,” she said, “and I know it infuriated the flight attendant, is at the very end, one of the gentlemen stands up and pulls a mask out of his pocket -- to put it on to leave the plane.”

At this point, there is no law on masks while flying. The Federal Aviation Administration has declined requests by airlines and their labor unions to make masks mandatory.