Airport Struggling to Keep High-Touch Points Clean

Investigation finds cleaners skipping some frequently touched areas

September 16, 2020

As airport traffic slowly increases amid the coronavirus pandemic, airports across the country are touting their enhanced cleaning protocols and cleaning accreditations to reassure travelers. Some of these protocols include technology such as automated scrubbers that clean then disinfect surfaces using ultraviolet light. The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, have established a formal partnership to accredit airports that meet the highest levels of cleanliness and safety at their facilities to minimize risk from coronavirus and other infectious agents.

However, some airports are still struggling to keep up with higher cleaning frequencies and enhanced cleaning methods. An investigative unit with Inside Edition tested several high-touch surfaces for cleanliness at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The investigators found evidence that several of these surfaces didn’t appear to have been cleaned for several days.

Unit members applied invisible ink on several surfaces throughout Terminal 4 in the airport, including several rows of seats, doors, and handles in a men’s restroom, elevator buttons, and airlines check-in counters. When dry, the ink can only be seen with an ultraviolet (UV) light.

The investigators returned to the New York City airport three days later with a UV light to determine if cleaning had removed the ink from the surfaces. They found ink remaining on several of the areas, suggesting that the surfaces had not been wiped clean.

The restroom stall handles were still covered in the ink, as were the buttons in an elevator and the check-in counter. In the seating area, the row of seats still showed traces of the ink on the armrests.

A passenger removed the ink from one of the seats by wiping it down with a sanitizing wipe. Nearby, cleaning crews swept and mopped the floor, vacuumed the carpet, and removed trash. But the workers did not wipe down any of the seat armrests.

When learning the results of the investigation, officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said they will undertake a thorough review of cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

Officials with the company that operates Terminal 4 told Inside Edition they are committed to ensuring the safety of customers and that fluorescent markers aren’t always reliable indicators of whether a surface has been properly disinfected. However, they said they are implementing a program to verify their enhanced cleaning processes are effective. 

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