Once airports and borders open again and people are able to fly freely — a process already in play as airports of all sizes around the world ready strategies to ensure healthy air travel — how much are you ready to change your flying habits?
Considering some of the changes already happening and the many more recommended before airports can reopen safely to commercial routes, experts are referring to the coronavirus pandemic as ‘the new terrorism,’ triggering the biggest crisis the airline industry has ever faced.
Let’s start with the entire process of checking in for flights, which some calculate that it could take up to four hours and involving social distancing, sanitation of passengers and luggage, wider spaces for various lines and waiting to board.
Nine out of 10 experts expect slower turnarounds between flights due to the need of thorough cleaning of cabins and following of sanitary measures at airports.
In the short run, though, it’s expected that reduced passenger numbers and airlines traveling to a smaller pool of destinations may reduce delays.
What to expect?
Among the steps under consideration: no cabin bags, no lounges, no automatic upgrades, face masks, surgical gloves, self-check-in, self-bag-drop-off, immunity passports, on-the-spot blood tests and sanitation disinfection tunnels.
Digital technologies and automation will play a critical role in the future of air travel. The need to reduce “touchpoints” at airports implies mandatory use of biometric boarding that allows passengers to board planes with only their face as a passport.
British Airways, Qantas and EasyJet already are using the technology.
Singapore Changi will include almost exclusive use of online check-ins, and contactless payments.
There will be more extensive all-biometric check-in systems and efficient dropping off bags, ‘travel bubbles,’ or tunnels for disinfection. (After being checked in, luggage may also be put through a disinfection fogging tunnel).
hey also must install demarcation of the spaces for social distancing in corridors and concourses, larger spaces for queues and waiting, plexiglass or other protective barriers at customer service counters, hand sanitation stations and thermal scanning to check crowds for fever-grade body temperatures, which already are in use in some major airports.
The boarding process is expected also to become ‘touchless,’ with options including facial recognition, already used in some U.S. airports for international flights. On the planes, there will be blocked seats, electrostatic spraying, personnel in protective gear and, of course, masks. Major European carriers such as Air France and KLM already have made them compulsory and it’s expected that all other airlines will do the same.
As for food, the tendency is to stop serving altogether on short-haul flights, while the airlines consider ‘light refreshments’ for long-haul flights. Hong Kong Airlines has decided to stop offering food altogether.
At the arrival point, international passengers will need to show some type of immunity document/passport, also advocated by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, to border control agents. Once a vaccine has been found, that could shift to a proof of vaccination.
“Arriving passengers will also undergo another temperature screening at their final destination and potentially even blood tests for COVID-19,” Conde Nast predicts. “Some airports like Hong Kong and Vienna are testing passengers for the coronavirus with a blood test before they are allowed to enter the country. Those types of tests, however, might be short-lived.”
“There will be new protocols for check-in involving digital technology; hand sanitizer stations at frequent points including where luggage is stored; contactless payment instead of cash; using stairs more often than lifts where the two-meter-rule can be harder to maintain; and fitness equipment being moved for greater separation, among other examples,” the WTTC wrote in a recent report.