This tip sheet is for employers of airlines, airports, and related businesses that operate in airports. It provides an overview of potential COVID-19 risks and recommends controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tips and guidance may also be useful for workers, travellers, and visitors.
In all cases, guidance from your local public health authority and jurisdictional health and safety regulator must be followed. Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers.
Understand that risk levels may change depending on local circumstances. Recommendations and control measures may be adjusted in response to local conditions (e.g., number of new COVID-19 cases and variants, low community vaccination rates). In some circumstances, regional/local Public Health Authorities (PHA) may recommend increasing or decreasing public health measures. Employers may choose to implement health measures that are more protective than those recommended by their local PHA.
Airport and airline operations run 24-hours a day. They are complex with many employers, each with their own workforce and work schedules. Considering this scenario, a variety of tips have been provided. Assess your workplace and apply the ones that fit best.
Consider the Risks
Employers must assess the risks of COVID-19 spread for their specific operation. Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document and evaluate work areas, routine and non-routine activities, job roles, and local circumstances.
The following factors that increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Risk of COVID-19 spread increases when several of these risk factors occur at the same time. Airline or airport workers may be exposed to some of these risk factors.
Close proximity (less than 2 metres) and interactions with people from outside of the immediate household, including close-range conversations.
Longer and more frequent in-person interactions.
Direct contact (e.g., shaking hands, hugging, kissing).
Crowded places and large gatherings, both indoors and outdoors.
Activities that create respiratory droplets and aerosols (e.g., when speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, and during strenuous activities such as exercise).
Poor ventilation in closed spaces (e.g., accumulation of virus particles in the air).
Inadequate personal hygiene practices or facilities.
Contaminated high-touch surfaces and shared objects (fomites).
Use of shared or public transportation (e.g., airplanes, buses, etc.)
High levels of COVID-19 cases in the local community.
Low levels of COVID-19 vaccination in the setting and/or local community.
Inter-regional travel, including from areas with COVID-19 Variants of Concern (VOCs).
Here are sample questions that can be asked to help you identify COVID-19 risk factors and appropriate control measures for your workplace:
How and where is COVID-19 most likely to spread for your workers?
Are you regularly checking and following the most recent guidance from your local public health authority?
What types of work settings does your operation have?
How many close interactions will workers have with others?
How long are the interactions?
Do workers frequently have contact with high touch surfaces or objects? Can this contact be minimized or eliminated?
How many people are in the workplace at one time?
Is wearing a mask required? Are you checking that masks are appropriate and properly worn?
What risks are involved with mobile workplaces (e.g., an airplane in flight)?
Are you able to assess if a person is sick or has been exposed and rapidly take appropriate actions?
Do you have plans for emergencies, including a suspected active case of COVID-19 that requires immediate medical attention?
Are buildings and airplanes adequately ventilated?
Could language barriers, comprehension level, or disability impact the ability of people to understand the risks and follow the control measures?
Are there personal factors that could make control measures more difficult to implement and follow (e.g., based on their health, physical ability, age and maturity, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances)?
Will COVID-19 risk factors at the flight departure or arrival location affect your operations or put workers and travellers at greater risk?
Each workplace is unique. In consultation with the workplace health and safety committee or representative, determine appropriate measures to limit COVID-19 spread by implementing a workplace COVID-19 safety plan. A written plan may be required to be posted and available upon request from regulatory inspectors.
Implement policies and programs, such as offering remote work, to accommodate workers who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions, unable to be vaccinated) from a COVID-19 infection.
Make sure that new controls do not create new hazards or compromise existing safety controls. Regularly review the adequacy of controls and make changes as necessary.
Review and adjust the business continuity plan, be ready to:
Provide alternative work arrangements
Deal with staff shortages
Handle travel restrictions or bans causing flight cancellations
Communicate with stakeholders (such as the local public health authority), airport and airline third-parties, and customers.
Specific Considerations for Aircraft Operations
Make sure cabin air circulation and filtration systems are operating properly. Inspect and maintain them as recommended.
If someone becomes ill mid-flight:
Separate the ill person from others. Minimize contact between them and others. If possible and appropriate relocate the ill person (and any travelling companions) to a more isolated part of the cabin.
Make sure the ill person is properly wearing a mask. If mask wearing is not tolerated, instruct them to cough or sneeze into their elbow or facial tissue.
After the flight, all surfaces touched by the ill person should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. All items that cannot be cleaned should be disposed of. Notify cleaning personnel of the specific contaminated areas.
Implement thorough cleaning and disinfection protocols for all aircrafts and vehicles. Provide cleaning crews additional time to properly clean and disinfect all potentially contaminated surfaces such as seat trays and lavatories.
Encourage passengers to dispose of their own waste.
Make sure that air crews have the required PPE and supplies on board as recommended by public health and regulatory authorities.
Consider suspending certain services (such as providing pillows and blankets) if this service increases the risk of exposure to workers.
Airport Guidance (Working with Travellers/Public)
Limit access to airport terminals and buildings to workers and travellers only and keep exemptions to a minimum.
Support airport COVID-19 testing regulations, as required.
Train workers to wash their hands after handling luggage and paperwork. Ensure hand washing facilities or hand sanitizer are available.
Enable physical distancing in all areas of the airport such as hangers, offices, control centres, departures, arrivals, and baggage claim areas.
Promote the use of self check-in and electronic boarding pass options to reduce touchpoints between workers and travellers.
Provide regular reminders about safe behaviours, best practices, and current safety protocols using airport announcement systems.
For services inside the airport:
Provide all food and drink in disposable containers.
Remove access to self-serve items (e.g., condiments, utensils, and napkins). Provide these items upon request.
Place water fountains out of service. Install and promote bottle refill stations.
Install disinfecting wipe dispensers so that they are available at each baggage cart station.
Make sure that communication devices such as radios are properly disinfected between users.
Ground crews should keep a safe distance from each other. Prevent close worker interactions by providing each worker their own vehicle, if possible.
Limit group transport occupancy to make sure passengers can maintain a safe distance and frequently clean high-touch surfaces. Maximize fresh air inside the vehicle by opening windows (weather permitting) or by adjusting ventilation systems.
Communication and Training
Keep up to date and comply with orders from your local public health authorities and regulator.
Communicate all new or updated practices and policies to workers and visitors.
All communication and training should be written in an easy-to-understand format, and in multiple languages according to worker preferences.
Post room occupancy limits at the entrances of break rooms, washrooms, reception areas, offices, and meeting rooms.
Keep all posted information up to date.
Encourage workers to report safety concerns including those related to COVID-19 to their employer, supervisor, health and safety committee or representative, or union if available.
Educate workers about COVID-19 and what they need to do to protect themselves and others. Topics should include:
Monitor compliance and repeat the training as often as needed.
Instruct workers to stay home if they feel sick, even if symptoms are mild.
Train workers to avoid unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives.
Discourage the sharing of personal items such as cellphones, lighters, etc.
Explain the importance of cleaning and disinfecting workstations, controls, screens, tools, radios, personal devices (e.g., cellphones) at the start of each shift, or as necessary.
Train conflict resolution techniques to workers so they are prepared to handle people who react aggressively to COVID-19 health measures and other changes.
Train workers on the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). Make sure workers understand how to protect themselves from the products they use (including cleaning products). Always refer to the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for specific requirements regarding ventilation and PPE.
Protect workers by screening all persons before they enter the workplace. Refer to local public health authorities for guidance when determining appropriate screening procedures, active or passive.
For active screening, ask each person if they have COVID-19 symptoms or were recently exposed.
Use a checklist, web-based tool, or have a designated person ask screening questions.
Deny access to those persons who have COVID-19 symptoms or exposures. Recommend that they stay home and monitor their health or symptoms. Suggest that they contact their health care provider or local public health authority if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen.
Passive screening may be used as an alternate way to screen individuals. Passive screening includes posting signs at entry points, instructing who may and may not enter, and policies requiring workers to evaluate their health before reporting to work.
To support contact tracing efforts, record the names and contact information of all persons who enter the facilities and vehicles, as required by your local public health authority. Make sure that privacy is protected, and that the information is stored securely. Contact information must be destroyed in a timely manner according to privacy laws.
Active testing methods (e.g., PCR, rapid test kits, and self-tests), can help to rapidly identify and contain COVID-19 spread, particularly during a local outbreak. The workplace should follow their local public health authority’s advice on appropriate test methods and strategies.
COVID-19 Response Plan
When a person reports COVID-19 symptoms while at work, immediately have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, if not available a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask).
Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening. If in transit (or in flight), work with local emergency services to get them to a medical facility as quickly as possible.
Ask them to leave as soon as it is safe for them to do so.
Have the person stop work immediately. Isolate them from others in a designated area or room. (Note: After the person leaves, clean and disinfect all surfaces/objects that the symptomatic person may have touched or been close to).
Send the worker home to begin their self-isolation. Ask them to avoid public transit, taxi, and ridesharing, if possible.
Return to work should be determined by medical professionals or public health officials and will depend on the type, duration, and severity of symptoms and if taken, the result of a COVID-19 test.
If a worker informs you of a positive COVID-19 test result, report it to your local public health authority and cooperate with any contact tracing efforts. You may also be required to inform workers who might been exposed unless that is the responsibility of your public health authority. Advise all those that were potentially exposed to carefully monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.
Create COVID-19 specific safe work procedures and make sure they are followed.
Adopt sick leave policies that are flexible and consider providing support to workers who are off sick (i.e., do not penalise workers that do not come to work when they feel sick).
Consider keeping non-essential staff working remotely (where safe to do so). Make sure essential roles such as supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are on each shift. Cross-train workers so they can safely replace the duties of absent workers.
Designate groups of workers to work together on the same schedule. Keep groups separate as much as possible.
Continue with safety and team meetings virtually by phone or videoconference, or in small physically distanced groups, preferably outdoors or in large well-ventilated locations.
Modify shared storage areas such as closets to have workers store their personal items in separate lockers or in labeled, sealed bins/bags.
Reduce noise levels as much as possible (e.g., turn off equipment that is not actively in use) to limit shouting.
Provide each worker with their own set of tools, if possible. Require any shared tools to be cleaned and disinfected between users.
When using air circulating or cooling fans, make sure that they do not blow air from person to person.
Reduce the number of touchpoints:
Install automatic doors openers or prop non-fire doors open. Be careful not to create new hazards (e.g., tripping or fire).
Install automatic (e.g., motion-activated or timed) touch-free light switches, water taps, sanitizer dispensers, toilet and urinal flushers, paper towel dispensers, and waste bins.
Replace waste bins with lids that must be manually opened with bins with motion or foot activated lids openers.
Use touch-free methods for workers to clock in, such as electronic key cards, messaging/e-mail, or rollcall by a supervisor.
Reduce the number of objects shared between workers (e.g., assign tools, equipment, or radios to workers for their whole shift).
Disable or remove public touchscreens from service.
Use contactless payment methods, such as debit or credit card tap and smartphone payment.
Physical Distancing and Physical Barriers
If recommended by local public health authorities implement physical distancing measures and install barriers.
Physical distancing requires people to:
Maintain a safe distance from others (at least 2 metres in all direction).
Avoid non-essential in-person interactions.
Keep interactions as few and as brief as possible.
Keep interactions with people who are from different immediate households at a safe distance.
Avoid crowded areas (e.g., main entrances, changerooms).
Comply with ground markings showing minimum safe distance.
Post signs reminding people to maintain physical distancing.
Identify areas that may be crowded (e.g., main entrance, service counters). If necessary, stagger shift and break schedules to avoid having large groups of workers in the same area.
Modify tasks to eliminate or avoid direct contact.
Increase workstation and furniture spacing.
Prepare for emergency situations such as evacuations or shelter-in-place, rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Modify queuing areas to allow for safe distance between people.
Install physical barriers to separate people from each other where possible and appropriate. Make sure barriers do not block aisles or exits (i.e., emergency escape).
Barriers should be appropriately sized and positioned to block respiratory droplets transmission.
Clean and disinfect barriers at least once per day or as needed.
Frequently wash hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds (or alternatively use hand sanitizer).
Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm or a tissue and to dispose of tissues immediately, followed by hand hygiene.
Post good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette infographics throughout the workplace.
Provide hand washing or alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizer at all entries and areas with high touch points. Make sure they are accessible for people living with disabilities.
Educate workers about appropriate times to wash or sanitize hands such as at the start of shift, before eating or drinking, after touching shared items, after using the washroom, after cleaning and disinfecting objects, before and after putting on or removing personal protective equipment (PPE) or a mask, and at the end of the shift.
Discourage individuals from touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Verify that all necessary supplies are readily available in the workplace (e.g., hand sanitizer, cleaning products, plastic-liners, disposable tissues).
Require workers to wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothes should be bagged and washed after each shift.
Cleaning and Disinfection
Airline operators should focus on high transmission risk objects and surfaces such as airplane latches, controls, touchscreens, handholds, tray tables, arm rests, and seats. Disinfect them multiple times a day.
Airport operators should consider all high-touch surfaces and objects such as luggage and carts, security scanning equipment and bins, railings, waste receptacles, washroom fixtures and surfaces, etc.
Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting for all control rooms, passenger waiting and transit areas, passenger boarding bridge, baggage cars, and other public spaces; especially if these systems and areas are used by multiple workers and the general public.
Ensure washrooms are cleaned frequently, have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels, and a plastic lined no-touch waste container.
Consider using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaners for airplane seats and interior surfaces.
Consider applying long lasting antimicrobial products to high touch surfaces.
Consider disinfecting the outside of luggage using aerosol or spray cleaners to make touchpoints safer.
Mask wearing can help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Refer to your local public health authorities and consider implementing a mask wearing policy.
Mask wearing policies should include when, where, and which type of mask is required to be worn.
When masks are required make sure they are properly worn (i.e., cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps), well-constructed, and well-fitting.
Inform workers of the limitations of masks, including that improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
If respirators (e.g., N95 mask) are required for certain tasks continue their use, do not allow other masks to be used in their place. Make sure workers complete respirator training and fit testing before they use a respirator.
Update your existing heat stress program, if your organization has one. Mask wearing may make it easier for some workers to experience heat stress.
Consider using transparent masks or use written directions to communicate with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Train workers to:
Change their mask if it becomes wet or soiled (have extra masks on hand for this purpose)
Store soiled reusable masks in a clean container (launder masks before re-use)
Avoid touching the outside of the mask while wearing and removing it (handle by straps only)
Wash their hands with soap and water (or hand sanitize) before and after putting masks on and off
Additional PPE including eye protection (i.e., goggles or face shields) and gloves may be required when using certain cleaning products or other materials. Consult the products safety data sheet (SDS) or label for recommended PPE.
Consider requiring eye protection (e.g., glasses, goggles, and face shields) for workers to provide additional protection. Note: Face shields should not be used as a substitute for masks.
Develop procedures and train workers on the selection, use, wearing, removal, disposal, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of PPE. Improper use of PPE can increase the risk of infection.
Clean hands before putting on and after removing PPE.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.