Qatar Airways rocked headlines when they announced that all flight attendants and cabin crew would be required to wear protective gowns and coveralls in July. Since then the airline has expanded its protection to include gloves, face masks and even face shields. Emirates and Etihad soon followed in its footsteps, and now it has become a familiar site onboard aircraft for the flight crew to protect themselves head to toe.
“At Qatar Airways, we have introduced these additional safety measures onboard our flights to ensure the continued health and well-being of our passengers and cabin crew, and to limit the spread of coronavirus,” Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said in a statement. “As an airline, we maintain the highest possible hygiene standards to ensure that we can fly people home safely during this time.”
But are protective coveralls and gowns necessary or are they just pseudo protection against the coronavirus? Let us explore their use and role in aviation.
What is a protective coverall?
A protective coverall (overalls, or also known as a biohazard gown) is a physical ‘suit’ that goes over the standard uniform of the cabin crew – unlike a biohazard protection suit seen in hospitals, which only covers the torso and the arms. There are some airlines however, that have opted to equip their staff with upper body coveralls or an apron that you might use in the galley.
Coveralls typically provide 360-degree protection because they are designed to cover the whole body, including the back and lower legs, and sometimes the head and feet as well. While the material and seam barrier properties are essential for defining the protective level, the coverage provided by the material used in the garment design, as well as specific features including closures, will significantly affect the protective level. – US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide to personal protection coveralls.
But not all protective coveralls are made equal. Airlines and aviation specialists need to ensure they look for a coverall that has the following criteria:
- A coverall with a protection category three – type 6B
- That has an anti-virus coating (including coronavirus/COVID-19)
- Has an anti-static feature
How effective are they against the coronavirus?
According to Cochrane (an international organization of hospital workers) researchers and scientists conducted a study into the effectiveness of protective coveralls:
“Covering more of the body leads to better protection. However, as this is usually associated with increased difficulty in putting on and removing PPE, and the PPE is less comfortable. Coveralls are the most difficult PPE to remove but may offer the best protection, followed by long gowns, gowns and aprons.”
Their finding is also backed by the World Health Organisation, that wholeheartedly recommends gowns:
“The WHO recommends long-sleeved non-sterile gowns and gloves for both aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) and non-AGPs. “
Science aside, you only need to see how hospital staff and other frontline workers wear coveralls on every shift every day. If they trust protective coveralls, then perhaps your airline should too.
What is the criticism of protective gowns?
Some thought leaders in the aviation industry, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have criticized airlines from rolling out the protective measures to protect their cabin crew – they have suggested that the appearance of someone in full surgical protection (to those inexperienced with medical biohazard protection) is rather alarming.
“Wearing a hazmat suit on an aeroplane is unnecessary and could cause undue concern for other travellers,” Scott Pauley, a press officer for the CDC told The Washington Post by email. “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
While masks are effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus, exhaled particles and saliva droplets, there is no or little protection for your clothes and skin. A protective coverall is the middle-man defence system in partnership with a mask and gloves, that ensues that no contaminate gets through.
For some cabin crew, they are necessarily ‘trapped’ all day in the air with possibly infectious coronavirus victims (especially if flying from developing regions). The prospect of some passengers being slightly emotionally discomforted by the sight of a crew member wearing a small protective coverall, may be worth it when their health is on the line.
Should your airline provide protective coveralls?
The bottom line is that coveralls are an incredibly effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and an essential item in partnership with masks, sanitizer, gloves and digital thermometers.
“Properly used protective clothing is only one component of a package of personal protective measures (which also includes gloves, mask, eye protection and hand washing/disinfection)”. – WHO report into gowns and other PPE equipment
And with other airlines quickly deploying coveralls and gowns throughout their respective fleets, PPE materials will once again be in short supply.
“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the safety of our passengers has been our highest priority,” explained Qatar’s Al Baker. “By introducing these additional onboard safety and hygiene measures, our customers can rely on us and our unparalleled expertise to fly them safely to their destination.”
Eways Aviation has a secure supply of PPE equipment from protective coveralls to digital thermometers and face masks – all specially designed for use in aviation. Thanks to our aircraft supply network for Aircraft on Ground services, Eways Aviation is best suited to be your biohazard security partner during the current COVID crisis and beyond. Get in touch today to learn how we can best help you with a bespoke protective solution.