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United Airlines To Maximize Air Flow Onboard While Boarding, Deplaning

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United Airlines said it will start to maximize air flow volume for all mainline aircraft high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems in a bid to make the air onboard its aircraft further more cleaner than what people typically breath in places such as restaurants, grocery stores, schools or even some hospitals.

"The quality of the air, combined with a strict mask policy and regularly disinfected surfaces, are the building blocks towards preventing the spread of COVID-19 on an airplane," said Scott Kirby, United's chief executive officer.

The carrier will now implement this new procedure of maximizing air flow volume for mainline aircraft beginning July 27.

During flight, the main cabin air is a mix of fresh air drawn from outside and air that has been passed through an air filtration system that features HEPA filters capable of capturing respiratory virus particles with high efficiency, similar to or better than those used in hospital environments.

United Airlines expects the new procedure to capture 99.97 percent of the respiratory virus particles using a combination of HEPA filters, air conditioning and pressurization system onboard.

The carrier said this will help further reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the entire boarding and deplaning process by filtering and re-circulating the air every 2 to 3 minutes and efficiently capturing viruses and bacteria during both ground and air operations.

Currently, fresh air flows downward on commercial aircraft into the cabin from ceiling vents and exits the cabin at the floor and sidewalls. That air is then routed through the HEPA filters and mixed 50:50 with fresh, outside air before returning back to the cabin. The system replaces the entire volume of cabin air every 2-3 minutes.

In addition to air filtration, the carrier has already enacted measures such as mandatory masking, health screenings, disinfection, and touchless systems. It was one of the first airlines in the country to mandate that everyone onboard wear a face covering in mid-June. It also warned that travel privileges of any passenger who refuses to wear a mask on its aircraft would be suspended.

United Airlines is also partnering with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study how effectively the unique airflow configuration onboard an aircraft can prevent the spread of aerosolized particles among passengers and crew.

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