A recent National Institute of Health report highlighted the length of time that different viral strains could possibly live on surfaces. Most of us have heard how a trace of Covid-19 can live on plastic and metal for up to three days (albeit ever reducing in strength), whereas copper and cardboard/paper are found to be the most hygienic materials in the study. In fact, previous research on materials show generally the more porous the surface, the shorter any virus or bacteria will live.


Covid-19 has obviously has caused the airline industry to increase cleaning regimes in a bid to obliterate any possible exposure between flights, wiping down plastic and metal surfaces such as IFE screens, armrests, tray tables, overhead bins and toilets in particular as ‘high touch’ areas. Thanks to metal and plastic composite materials which reduce aircraft weight, it does mean that there are many surfaces to disinfect. IFE screens are made from flexible plastic materials, tray tables and arm rests need special attention after receiving long-term exposure to human contact.

But this is all in a bid to alleviate hygiene concerns related to stepping aboard an aircraft. Aircraft are actually quite hygienic thanks to the regular cleaning and HEPA filtration systems already in play. If you compared this to public transport, cinemas or sports venues, airlines would probably rank high on the cleanliness scale. In fact, one articlereported that one of London’s tube lines only cleaned seats once every 36 weeks, on a network that carries over 5 million passengers a day.

Design is a way of solving problems, and goes further than just brand and product, it needs to instruct human behaviour, and design can also inform communication approaches. It therefore comes as no surprise that one of the first big communications from American Airlines was a “back to market” video to further reassure its loyal passengers of their impressive per-flight cleaning regime.

The World Health Organisation and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long recommended that the best way to tackle any viral pandemic is by changing human behaviour, and that 80% of pandemics can be stopped by effective education and clear communication. Even Anthony Harcup from TEAGUE is predicting this will be the North Star for airlines to rebuild trust in the passenger experience. We’re already starting to see airlines adopt new simple-to-implement passenger experience measures, such as Wizz and Lufthansa Group’s new requirement for all passengers to wear face masks before boarding. Wizz are simply handing out disinfectant wipes during boarding too.

Qatar Airways has already added a new hand washing and personal hygiene information video to their IFE offering and no doubt we’ll see these embedded into the safety videos in the near future.

Our Work - American Airlines web.jpg

But one of the most useful branded communication platforms to engage passengers for any airline – is the humble inflight magazine – and perhaps the most powerful tool in fighting the spread of the contagion. It has an engagement figure that’s hard to beat, with statistically 88% of passengers admitting to reading the magazine at some point in their flight. It is viewed for roughly 23 minutes and can fully explain an airline’s approach to tackling onboard hygiene.

Being made of paper, the magazine is also one of the most hygienic products on an aircraft, due to its thin, porous characteristics.

This is why you see magazines in doctor waiting rooms or paper products regularly utilised in hospitals. It’s been proven time and time again that paper is not only a sustainable source (if managed correctly) but has a clinical application that other, far more costly, materials can’t deliver. For those in the UK, newspaper has been used to wrap fish and chips for decades, as it was one of the most hygienic products due to the newsprint production process.


Ink – the world’s leader in travel media – and content marketeers Cedar have both agreed to go one step further, by trialing new anti-microbial finishes to their paper in a bid to make their products even more hygienic. Also, as of 2019, all of Ink’s printed products are now carbon offset, making the magazine the airline’s greenest, cleanest and most sustainable of all branded onboard communication channels.

But could airlines learn from customer experience touchpoints outside of their own industry? We’ve already seen the likes of Emirates adopt cardboard food boxes (rather than china plates) during the pandemic to help reduce the spread of the virus, and Priestmangoode has been looking at recycled plant-based food trays as a potential future concept. When correctly engineered, paper can form a multitude of applications well beyond the current perceptions of consumers.


We’re seeing cardboard and plant-based materials being increasingly used in anything from construction and transportation to product design. Qantas has already rolled out fully compostable coffee cups and Etihad are experimenting with sustainable and green initiatives on their 787 Greenliner. Even bamboo, a once-looked over highly sustainable construction material has seen a resurgence in South East Asia thanks to architects like Ibuku.

While airlines are looking to increase their desire for a touchless passenger experience, sometimes the tactility of a simple paper product isn’t only the quickest and greenest solution, but one that leaves the longest lasting memory too.

Posted by:Jonny Clark

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