British Airways Testing Reduced Aircraft Cleaning To Minimize Delays

Filed Under: British Airways

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has boarded a flight, particularly in economy, and discovered the previous passenger’s rubbish in the seat pocket, or a tray table that has not been properly cleaned.

I find this more on short-haul flights, where the aircraft may be turned around multiple times per day operating various sectors. It is frustrating, but especially for low cost carriers that have turnaround times of 30 minutes or less, it’s understandable that with so many passengers exiting and then boarding the aircraft, there is very little time for a proper clean between flights.

In my experience most airlines will at least check the seats and floors for rubbish, and lower all armrests and cross the seatbelts, but may not go so far as to check the seat pockets or lower the tray table to check how clean it is.

On a long haul, say A380 flight, I would not expect to find any rubbish as there are much more generous turnaround times and much more thorough cleaning routines.

British Airways has just performed a trial where it did not clean certain aircraft between flights for a four day period at one of its ‘shortest European route’ destinations (think Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, etc). They have told Paddle Your Own Kanoo that:

We know our cabin crew work extremely hard looking after our customers and understand their rest period between flights is very important.

We consulted with our crews during this short trial to advise them not to carry out additional tasks during their downtime between flights. We understand our customer’s value arriving at their destinations on time, that’s why we completed a short trial on one route.

At most European airports (i.e. outside of their London hubs), British Airways planes have between 45 and 60 minutes turnaround (50 minutes seems to be the norm, but it varies from airport to airport), which is generous considering Ryanair has just 20 minutes.

Some airlines force their cabin crew to conduct aircraft cleaning in between flights (with a more thorough clean by outside cleaning staff at the end of each day), but British Airways’ highly unionised cabin crew do not conduct any cleaning, so external cleaning staff would usually board the aircraft to conduct cleaning tasks between each and every flight.

I understand BA crew usually leave the aircraft in between European flights at Heathrow and have a rest period. I’m unsure of whether they physically leave the aircraft at European bases or just stay out of the way of cleaning crew and rest.

The trial meant that as no cabin crew, or external cleaning staff, would perform cleaning tasks in between flights, only rubbish collected during the flight would be removed, and seat belts would not be crossed.

Cleaning staff would meet the plane but only to collect the (bagged) rubbish the crew had collected during the flight.

So why are they doing this?

BA has said that the purpose of the trial is to see how delays can be reduced by limiting cleaning, which should then in turn reduce turnaround times.

If a flight is delayed, some passengers would probably rather get to their destination faster, rather than waiting, say, and additional 20 minutes for the seat pockets to be checked and the tray tables to be wiped down.

Where there is a delay, crew may try and board passengers more quickly, but there are certain tasks like cleaning that, to be done properly, take about the same time each time, regardless of the urgency. And the delay keeps rolling throughout the day.

Bottom line

Although this is just a trial I could certainly see British Airways skipping aircraft cleaning after delayed flights in future.

It’s a fine balance between keeping your passengers happy with a clean cabin, versus keeping them on time in a delay situation. I probably lean towards the uncleaned, reduced delay situation myself.

While ideally every plane would be spotless and no flight would ever be delayed — I’m interested to know what you consider to be more important. Would you prefer a cleaned plane, or a reduced delay?

  1. Smart move on British Airways part to increase $ gUaP $ potential. Word of mouth reputation spreads like wildfire, when people ask about your cleanliness references.

  2. Wasn’t BA the bed bug airline?
    For me a dirty plane is a big NO. Its not that we are talking bus ticket prices of €2 here. They better get their act together.

  3. Ridiculous. BA planes are the dirtiest. The last 2 time I flew on Ba J class long haul, I find the storage spaces so dirty that I don’t dare to put my belongings there without first wiping them with the hot towels, or putting magazines etc to cover the walls of side storage on the A380 upper deck.

  4. 100% would rather be delayed (a reasonable) amount of time so I won’t have to wallow in someone else’s filth. Would you sit at a table in restaurant that was dirty?

    But seriously…is this really being done so crew can get more rest? Or to better serve their guests? Altruism is not a quality I associate with them (or IAG)…

  5. To minimize delays = to reduce costs in marketing speak. Of all the European carriers I’ve flown recently, BA had the dirtiest planes so I do not think this is a wise move.

  6. Ew! Last year on one of my flights from DUB-LHR in Club Europe, when I got to my seat I discovered a disgusting used napkin hiding under those silly middle seat trays. And that’s WITH cleaning the aircraft!!! Hahaha! I think it makes sense to cut cleaning if the flight is running late, I only ever connect through LHR, its never my final destination, so I definitely appreciate arriving (somewhat, though it never happens) on time!

  7. the turnround time may look like 50 minutes but 20 of that is taken up with the doors closed time for the departure. It can take 10 minutes to de board passengers so you have 20 whole minutes to clean the cabin – well good luck with that and those that think it can be done in that time should give it a try.

    Planes would be cleaner if passengers helped more by handing rubbish over to the crew when they come and collect it but some people can’t even be ar£ed to pass over a newspaper or coffee cup.

    As far as I’m concerned as long as all visible rubbish is cleared (water bottles, newspapers etc) is clear and the toilets have been cleaned I can live with a few crumbs.

  8. I’m all for cleaning things, but I had a Delta flight once that was already hours delayed in Minneapolis. I think we were scheduled to depart for Boise at 2am or some crazy time. The inbound flight arrived finally, and we waited about 30 minutes for boarding to begin. The gate agent announced that the crew was dissatisfied with the cleaning that had been done, so they were calling back the external cleaning crew. I’ve never heard passengers so vocal, and truthfully, I would have rather had them hand me a Clorox wipe to clean my own seat/tray.

  9. The real problem is some passengers slowing down everyone when taking ages to take their luggage from the compartment and taking hours to get the hell out of the way.

  10. James I agree with your logic for most airlines, but I have to say BA has had a problem with aircraft cleanliness for some time, and has earned itself a poor reputation for flying with very dirty cabins.

    I actually thought recently they had started to get a bit better (it’s been 6 or 7 months since I had a serious problem with a filthy cabin/seat and I fly them often). I am very surprised to see them carry out a trial like this – the publicity from this alone will further contribute to their negative reputation for cleanliness.

    I think they should absolutely avoid cutting anything about cabin cleaning – it’s an area I would really like to see them invest more in, both on shorthaul and longhaul services.

  11. If the only goal is to reduce delays, what stops them from cleaning the planes at night when they’re sitting around not about to fly?

  12. “I’m unsure of whether they physically leave the aircraft at European bases or just stay out of the way of cleaning crew and rest.” I can answer that at AMS the crew definitely do not leave the aircraft. The turnaround is quite tight but passengers usually wait long enough to expect some cleaning to be able to be done in that time (at least 30 mins after incoming pax have deplaned).

    This is not a time-saving exercise but a money-saving one.

  13. My thoughts are this.

    -Given a choice between avoiding a 15-30 minute delay (and potentially losing your slot) vs waiting for cleaners I will say screw the cleaners any day for a short-haul flight.

    -Despite my hatred of flying Southwest they do have what I find to be clean aircraft most of the time. The F/A’s (and often the pilots) run through to grab any trash. It works just fine. Do you honestly think these BA cleaning services are doing anything else? I highly doubt there is a spit shine to the tray tables and arm rests, lol.

  14. I always bring sanitizing wipes with me to clean my seat whenever I fly so that’s not an issue. My niece is allergic to peanuts so she, too, always brings wipes with her to ensure there are no peanut traces on her seat.

  15. Those entitled BA flight attendants should get off their high horse and help clean the plane. There’s nothing wrong with the plan crew cleaning their own plane.

  16. The bean counters at BA and a genius idea. I will bet that it never crossed their collective minds to hire extra cleaners.

  17. The BA supposition seems to be that they can’t achieve both an on-time pushback and a clean cabin given their self-imposed constraints. Perhaps scheduling a bit more time between flights and adding a few more people to the cleanup crew might allow a clean cabin and no cleaning crew imposed delays? Of course, given the choice of a cleaned cabin or a delay, most would choose the dirty cabin. This is merely a cost-cutting measure disguised as an efficiency necessity.

    I once found a dirty disposable baby diaper rolled up in a seatback pocket on a EU BA flight when, I assume, they had “cleaned” the plane between stops. These planes aren’t cleaned well when an effort is made, hard to imagine how bad it could get when no cleaning is performed. Enjoy those lavatories on late BA flights!

  18. I ‘m sorry, but how is proper cleaning responsible for delays? Just add one or two more people to the cleaning team and they ‘ll do the job within the time limit given by the airline! All aircraft cabins are designed to be cleaned within predefined time limits. All that stuff about reducing delays by lowering the cleaning requirements is just nonsense…

  19. Just a cost cutting move masquerading as a way to up the passenger experience punctuality wise – nothing more.

  20. Aren’t BA the airline that regularly has news stories about dirty aircraft?

    I feel like the Daily Mail is going to love the headlines this will generate for them.

  21. BA’s new enhancement – on time departure if we skip cleaning (and the planes are already filthy)

  22. @ George – this is for where the flight is already delayed because of reasons not relating to aircraft cleaning (like late arrival of incoming aircraft) and skipping cleaning is attempting to reduce the already existing delay.

  23. I have really bad OCD and anxiety . So I would in a delay like to be given some gloves, a bag and a bottle of cleaner and do the job myself. I hate being late because of my anxiety which makes me worry that everything will go wrong if I’m late. But my OCD kills me if something is messy or dirty so I don’t know what I’d hate more.

  24. For many of my “road warrior” days, I purposely steared clear of flying on BA. Not for one particular reason, just heard too many negatives. Last year after accumulating a number of CITI card bonus, my wife and I returned to LAX from LHR. A week later, our bed was infested with bed bugs. Call this a coincidence, I think not!!. In any case, BA along with AA are both out of any future travel plans

  25. I would ask the question… what type of cleaning does actually get done in between those flights!? I’d expect it to be more tidying up than actual cleaning although over the course of a day, it all still accumulates! If there are indeed cleaning issues overall, they don’t just arise from the “in between” sessions! That said, I’ve always found BA’s longhaul cabins to be clean.

  26. Ha! Whoever sits in my seat after I deplane is assured a clean seat, tray, and seat pocket. When I first sit down I scrub everything down with Clorox wipes, and I’m very thorough. I started doing this after getting sick after back-to-back flights last year. So far, so good. Here’s the thing — no matter what airline, my wipes always end up black with dirt after all my scrubbing. It’s pretty gross, and makes me wonder when (if?) plane interiors ever get a deep clean. I haven’t sat in a single seat, whether Economy or Business, domestic (U.S.) or international long haul that was spotlessly clean. With regards to BA, they’re one of the worst so cutting corners like this is not really going to make a difference… my two cents — always carry disinfecting wipes with you when you travel.

  27. @Adam – “those entitled BA flight attendants” are there for your safety, not to clean up after you. If everyone just mopped up their spills and gave their rubbish to the FAs when they were asked we would not have this problem. Let’s talk about entitled passengers getting down off their high horses and not treating plane cabins like rubbish tips before we start disparaging FAs.

    And before any asks, no I am not employed by an airline, nor do I know anyone who is. For me it’s all about respect. Now I’ll climb down off my high horse.

  28. How often do I wish there was a bin available to put any rubbish in during the flight instead of having to stuff it in the seatback pocket (here, the sick bag helps). The last thing after collecting your luggage from the overhead locker/under the seat in front of you is to collect rubbish from the pocket as well, especially as there is nowhere to put it.

  29. Very smart move, haha, people don’t produce garbage anymore since service is non-existent. Paying for a glass of water? No thanks

  30. Why should it be either one or the other? We pay for a product with an expectation of on-time arrivals and a clean aircraft. Why is this too much to expect for the price of a ticket? I doubt BA is so very concerned with our sensibilities. Sounds like another excuse to offer an ever-inferior product. Fairly soon I expect every passenger will be issued with table wipes, rubber gloves and a mini vac. Toilets to be cleaned on a last one in basis. Good god almighty.

  31. Look at the people who clean Shinkansen trains in Japan. Depending on the stop, they literally only have 3-5 minutes to clean the trains. They look like they are on a game show where you win a prize if you do the best cleaning of the cabin.

    Just about everyone eats and/or drinks on those trains since the rides tend to be long and yet they are still clean. Never seen any rubbish or anything nasty on those trains. Study how they do it to be successful. Then again, Japanese people don’t leave garbage behind, so maybe that’s why it works?

  32. Never hold up Ryanair as an example of “good practice.” The fact that their turnaround times may be only 20 minutes is not to be lauded. Also, the fact that BA has a highly unionised workforce is a negative rather than a positive as it simply means they are inflexible.

  33. As someone who used to clean airplanes in his uni days – uh, no. Clean the jet, period – appearance means a lot. You may not have an issue with a lav that hasnt been serviced, but I sure as heck do. You should see some of the things folks leave behind – it isnt pretty. Cleaning crews are generally NOT the reason flights get delayed.

  34. This is crazy. If anyone depends on being somewhere with only 20 minutes of cushion time, they shouldn’t be traveling by plane. There are SO many ways for a plane to be delayed, like, um, ever circle going into LHR? I’d say about that’s 90% of the time.

    One of my biggest complaints about BA is the cleanliness of their planes. I mostly fly between JFK and LHR, with plenty of cleaning time yet I find lots of crud in biz and first seats.

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