SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines has received the highest rating in a global audit of airlines' health and safety standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the national carrier announced on Tuesday (Jan 19).
The "diamond" rating is awarded to airlines that reach "hospital-grade level health safety", according to a press release by audit organisers, the non-profit Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and aviation marketing firm SimpliFlying.
"Singapore Airlines' commitment to customer well-being shines via a contactless journey management bolstered by best-in-class onboard hygiene," said APEX CEO Dr Joe Leader.
The airline has invested in passengers' wellness by implementing the latest advances in testing and health passport technology, he added.
SimpliFlying CEO Mr Shashank Nigam said SIA has "raised the bar" for health and safety standards with initiatives such as near-touch check-in kiosks, mobile notifications for baggage delays and digitisation of in-flight menus and magazines.
"Taking hospital-grade measures in ensuring health safety will help bolster trust among travellers," he said.
The "APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying" audit involves a 58-point checklist covering 10 categories of health and safety.
These include testing, tracing, on-the-ground procedures, in-flight measures and partnerships that further the integrity of airline product safety.
Airlines that clearly meet and exceed "all needed health standards" for passenger safety and well-being listed in the questionnaire are awarded the "gold standard" rating, said the organisers.
Those that score within 100 points above the gold standard receive a platinum rating, while those that score at least 200 points above receive a diamond rating.
Thirty-three airlines are currently moving through the review process, organisers said on Jan 12. SIA is among the first 12 airlines to be certified.
Also receiving the diamond rating are Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air Canada, Saudia, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and Britain's Virgin Atlantic.
SriLankan Airlines and Chile's JetSmart received the platinum rating.
The standards were developed to increase customer safety as more passengers return to the skies, said APEX and SimpliFlying.
"It is expected that airline certification will increase customer awareness of aligned industry health safety standards, encourage more informed air travel choices, and increase air travel by at least 2 per cent on certified airlines in 2021," they added.
Receiving the diamond rating was a recognition of SIA's "unwavering commitment" to safeguarding the well-being of passengers and staff, said Mr Yeoh Phee Teik, the airline's senior vice-president for customer experience.
"Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we undertook a comprehensive review of our health and safety measures together with our partners and regulators, in consultation with medical experts, and by taking on board customer feedback," he said.
"Our teams deep-dived into many check points along the end-to-end customer journey.
"We reinforced existing procedures where necessary, enhanced some of them, introduced new measures to supplement them, and used digital technologies to complement them and support a more seamless travel experience."
In December, the airline started trials on a new digital health verification app that allows it to validate a passenger's COVID-19 test results and vaccination information.
SIA said in a news release that its pre-departure measures include basic passenger health assessments and contactless services such as mobile check-in and digital in-flight menus.
Anti-microbial coating is regularly applied on high-touch surfaces including areas in the lounges, as well as sections of the aircraft cabin including toilets. On selected aircraft, electrostatic spraying machines containing a disinfecting agent are used to sanitise the cabin.
During the flight, all passengers and crew are required to wear masks unless they are eating or drinking. Cabin crew are also required to wear goggles, and gloves when necessary, while interacting with customers.
On flights to and from the United Kingdom and South Africa, cabin crew are also required to be in full personal protective equipment.
While physical newspapers and magazines have been removed, passengers get a free e-library via their personal tablets and mobile devices. Meal services have also been simplified to reduce contact.
Additionally, all SIA aircraft are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, with the cabin air "refreshed every two to three minutes throughout the flight", said the airline.