Heathrow Airport achieves 4-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating upgrade
by Skytrax: London, UK
Heathrow Airport’s COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating has been upgraded to reflect many improvements to the hygiene, safety and cleanliness protocols and standards introduced at the airport.
The Skytrax COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating is regarded as a global benchmark for defining safe travel assurance for customers.
Heathrow has made many improvements to their COVID-19 safety protocol implementation in the past 6 months, with enhanced hygiene and cleanliness measures now meeting a strong overall standard, and further enhancements due in the coming months. The airport has widely rolled out antimicrobial coatings on frequently touched surfaces, and has also introduced UV sanitisation measures on escalators rails, and through its UV cleaning robots.
With passenger numbers expected to increase as national travel restrictions are eased, Heathrow is boosting the number of distancing markers and signage to facilitate safe movement and handling of customers in public areas, this in addition to dynamic monitoring of airport capacity which allows the airport to implement controls for public access to the terminal.
Whilst the airport has been criticised for unacceptably long waits at immigration for inbound customers, this is an element of the airport service over which Heathrow has no control, and is managed by Border Force, part of the UK government’s Home Office.
Edward Plaisted of Skytrax said: “We are pleased to see the extent of COVID-19 safety improvements that Heathrow has achieved in 2021, and it is unfortunate that their maximum potential is being hampered by the border control issues experienced by customers. Although an area outside Heathrow’s control, travellers will likely attribute any failings here to the airport operator, and we could not apply a 5-Star COVID-19 Airport Rating to an airport where such chaos is occurring, even if the failings are directly attributable to a third party, not the airport operator.”
Just last week, Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Border Force’s claims that “long queues in immigration are inevitable” smack of complacency – they are completely avoidable if Ministers ensure that all desks are staffed at peak times.”
Heathrow announced on 21st May that they will initially be opening a dedicated arrivals facility in Terminal 3 from June 1st for red list passengers arriving on direct flights, which should serve to alleviate customer concerns and reduce inbound immigration waiting times.
Heathrow Chief Operating Officer, Emma Gilthorpe, said: “We are thrilled that Heathrow has been awarded the prestigious 4 Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Ranking by Skytrax – the highest ranking achieved by a UK airport. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve invested in the latest cutting-edge technologies like UV sanitising robots, enhanced cleaning regimes and ventilation, mandated face coverings throughout the airport and employed a team of dedicated hygiene technicians and COVID marshals all in an effort to keep our passengers and colleagues safe. The impacts of COVID-19 are likely to continue to be a feature of travel for the foreseeable future and we will continue to work with all of our partners at the airport to ensure Heathrow remains one of the safest airports in the world.”
Customers travelling through Heathrow will see even more hand sanitiser facilities at high contact points such as boarding gate queues, lavatory entrances and exits, and Heathrow is reorganising existing dispensers to ensure that customers are never more than 30 paces from a hand hygiene station.
Importantly, Heathrow is cooperating with key airport partners such as British Airways, TFL, Heathrow Express, on-site testing organisations, and retail and dining outlets to align measures and provide the most consistent experience for the three key elements of hands, face, and space, in addition to reinforcing the highest levels of cleanliness and hygiene.
Part of the COVID-19 assessment monitors social distancing amongst passengers and staff, and the reality and consistency of face mask use in the airport. As part of this commitment, Heathrow employs a team of COVID Marshals who advise and remind customers the current regulations of hygiene safety, but also assist passengers through the airport process.
The most recent COVID-19 audit at Heathrow Airport was conducted April 2021, evaluating over 175 safety protocols introduced by Heathrow Airport in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance customer and staff safety. The audit includes assessment of the airport’s implementation of health, hygiene, and safety measures in accordance with the recommendations of the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Aviation Health Safety Protocol.
The COVID-19 Safety Rating evaluates airport facilities and service to determine how effectively and consistently COVID-19 procedures are being provided, and assessment areas include terminal cleanliness, cleaning and disinfection procedures, standard and usage conformity of staff personal protective equipment, branding, standard and application of social distancing signage, floor markers and seat distancing, hand sanitiser facilities, airport PA guidance, organisation and control of passenger flows around the airport, security screening hygiene systems, general passenger facilities (e.g. baggage trolleys) and control of social distancing and face mask usage.
COVID-19 Airport Safety Ratings place high importance on the implementation of face mask regulations and monitoring of social distance adherence amongst staff and customers, and how airports apply these measures. Airport cleaning efficiency includes evaluation of cleaning systems and equipment, cleaning staff numbers, and if sanitisation is regularly validated using ATP testing.
The 4-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating indicates a good standard of airport cleanliness and maintenance procedures. Airports achieving 4-Star deliver some Best Practice systems of cleanliness and hygiene monitoring. 4-Star rated airports deliver good visual cleanliness and terminal presentation standards, in addition to robust disinfection and hygiene measures which have been scientifically evaluated.
Skytrax, the International air transport rating organisation, was established in 1989 and is based in London, United Kingdom. In 2020, Skytrax launched the COVID-19 Airport Safety Ratings, providing independent, expert evaluation and certification of airport COVID-19 hygiene and safety measures. This programme is regarded as the global benchmark for Certifying COVID-19 safe travel standards.
Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and one of the world’s top international aviation hubs. The airport is Britain’s largest cargo port, helping to drive British trade growth and assisting the country in the fight against COVID-19, with 46% of the country’s pharmaceutical products imported through Heathrow in 2020. Heathrow is the first UK airport to pass the CAA’s COVID Security Assurance Scheme and has secured the Airport Health Accreditation from the Airports Council International, as a result of investments made to keep the hub airport COVID secure. The airport is currently ranked by passengers as the “Best Airport for Shopping” for 11 years in a row.