As the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, small sights of how the travel industry might inch towards any sort of normalcy are being seen as airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and government agencies roll out initial frameworks for health and safety.
In the first installment of our three-part series, Master Travellr takes a look at how flying will evolve in this post-COVID world as airlines start to greenlight routes domestically with hopes of eventually seeing more international travel back on the map.
Masks, questionnaires, and temperature checks will likely be a part of the new-reality routine before boarding an aircraft. As for the approach, timing, physical distance, and testing are going to be key as economies start to open up again. We’ve seen instances already where too rapid of a reopening poses as a significant threat to subsequent waves and spikes in infection.
Health agencies globally are watching very carefully and proceeding cautiously in a phased approach—ready to step back the moment spikes are detected. While many airlines will not weather the COVID-19 storm and file for bankruptcy, others will slowly restart with precautionary measures in place. Here’s a preview of what you may expect to see.
Before the flight
In the terminal
Airport terminals will be transformed to comply with new health and safety guidelines. Inside, physical distancing measures will be in effect including plexiglass installed at ticket counters, gates, and floor markers in queues and security checkpoints to ensure one- to two-metre distances are maintained.
In some countries, temperature checks or thermal temperature screening will be done upon check-in along with a questionnaire of past travel history, screening for symptoms, and certain regulators are even experimenting with immunity passports to certify people deemed safe for travel.
More hand sanitizers will be found in high-contact areas, while some countries are testing contact-tracing apps should someone you were near test positive for COVID-19. In Hong Kong, disinfecting stations are being trialed where sanitizers can fog clothing and skin surfaces in less than a minute—for potential use as part of the security screening and customs process.
Limited lounge offerings and airport amenities
Airport lounges will likely see shifts in service, opting out of buffet-style service and more prepackaged food and drink. Capacities will also be enforced to ensure safe, physical distancing.
Finally, high-touch surfaces like restrooms, check-in kiosks, and waiting areas will be sanitized more frequently, with possible use of electrostatic sprayers and robots.
Preparing the cabin
Before pushing back, airlines have increased cabin grooming, including electrostatic spraying of cabin interiors and cleaning of high-touch surfaces using hospital-grade disinfectants. For Air Canada, their new CleanCare+ program includes new cleaning protocols, but also changing seat assignment policies to ensure personal space.
Temporarily blocking the middle seat
Through June 30, 2020, Air Canada will automatically block the sale of adjacent seats and cap the total number of seats sold for each flight. This ensures safe distances are maintained where necessary.
Upon boarding, expect to file back to front, whereas airlines have traditionally implemented zoned or grouped seating to manage flow.
In the air
Masks and gloves will play a large role as flight attendants and passengers alike stay safe on board. Some airlines, like Qatar Airways, are rolling out hazmat suits for crew, while North American airlines are providing masks, gloves, and disinfecting wipes. Passengers will be required to wear mouth-and-nose coverings at all times, while airlines like Air Canada will provide complimentary kits containing hand sanitizers and other health items to all customers.
Service will also drastically change on board the aircraft. On many airlines, this means the temporary (and in some cases, permanent) reduction of food and beverage service in premium, business, and first class cabins. This includes pre-packaged meals compared to prepared-on-board menu items, reduced beverage service, and removal of blankets, amenity kits and hot towels to minimize crew and passenger contact.
The on-board experience is a large reason why people pay for premium fares, so this will likely have an effect on whether people opt for premium experiences while flying.
Asking to go to the washroom?
If you need to use the restroom, prepare for a wait as some airlines implement a request-before-you-go approach. This involves alerting a flight attendant to ensure there is ample personal space in the back galley or areas outside the restroom. It’s like being back in elementary school!
Seat barriers unlikely
On the unlikely side, there have been concept renderings where seating arrangements have been redesigned and plexiglass barriers installed. These will require large capital investment on an airline’s part, and given the financial crisis they are facing, these purchases seem highly unlikely.
When you land
Vacations will likely be shorter, given the economic times many are facing. Trips won’t be as far, and international travel will take a while to rebound. Travel will also be highly dependent on local restrictions and guidelines.
From the immigration front, this will involve more stringent checks at upon landing, health and temperature screening, and potential isolation requirements. Technology is also being implemented in some countries where contact tracing will play a role should there be further outbreaks. This contributes to a larger pool of data and help track how COVID-19 is spread through travel.
It’s important to read up before deciding where to go as rules change weekly if not daily. Travel insurance will become important in making plans as itineraries may suddenly be cancelled or airlines go bankrupt—so do your research before booking, monitor regional health advisories, and make sure you’re properly protected financially.