When will the world open up is a question we are all hearing. This will differ for nations as each sets its own rules. Once it does open up how will remaining airlines operate? What will be required for a person to be able to board an aircraft. Our head image, from cartoonist Matt Golding, outlines some of the confusion that still awaits us.
Travel writer Laura Ash outlines her thoughts in simple flying.
The world is under no illusion that air travel could look a whole lot different in the coming months post-COVID-19. But just how different will it get? We’re piecing together what international air travel could look like when many routes re-open again.
All efforts to stave off the spread of the coronavirus will ultimately lead to the aviation industry being reinstated. The aim of the airline game right now is to get passengers back up in the air. There have been debates about whether the popularity of air travel will remain the same as pre-COVID-19 levels. On this, the jury is out, but we’re likely to notice some differences. Many airlines and airports could keep safety measures that they currently have in place, even when the intensity of the coronavirus abates.
Much work is needed to contain the future spread of the virus, but also to regain passenger trust. Airlines and airports will likely look to additional ‘comfort’ measures that give them and their passengers peace of mind.
Will I need a blood test?
Emirates has changed its health screening process to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The Middle Eastern airline has begun taking blood tests before passengers board aircraft to ensure that they are COVID-free. The airline is the only one in the world to be carrying out this procedure, but others may be tempted. Will this be a new norm?
As far as thinking about pre-flight blood tests go, it all sounds a bit extreme. However, the process is relatively simple. It’s also a relatively quick way to ascertain whether or not a passenger is infectious. For these reasons, pre-flight blood tests look attractive to airlines, and they do a lot to reassure passengers.
Despite that, blood tests as a standard, widespread airport procedure could look unlikely because, ultimately, they are time-consuming. While, yes, the war against coronavirus does demand that we spend time investing in it, there are other ways for airports to ensure passenger safety without drawing blood. Other methods may also not significantly drain medical resources, which could be needed more urgently outside of airports.
How will health screening work?
If passengers are not required to take blood tests in the future, how will health screening work? Well, as we saw in many Chinese airports at the start of the outbreak, airports could be required to take the temperature of passengers before they board. These devices check for the tell-tale fever signs of the coronavirus and could prevent infected passengers from accessing boarding.
However, these devices may need to get even more sophisticated if they are to be a long term solution. While undoubtedly, in terms of comfort, having your temperature taken is preferable to being pricked with a needle, these temperature checks have not always been conclusive. Some who have passed through these health screenings have been tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after.
However, if a device to detect infected passengers is created soon, then we could see more airlines deny passengers boarding. At present, airlines are permitted to refuse boarding if they deemed to be too ill. If the carrier believes that a passenger could be infectious to other travelers, they can be asked to leave the flight. In the days of heightened anxiety towards viral illness, more passengers could be denied boarding.
Will I need a CoronaPass?
Another idea floated is that of an immunity passport. These documents would certify that the holder has been infected with coronavirus and has overcome it, having now developed the relevant antibodies to make them immune. It’s an interesting concept that does have legs, but how would airlines use it?
As a long-term strategy for regular service, it’s unclear how the immunity passport would work. However, the certificate, also dubbed the ‘CoronaPass,’ would allow those who have overcome COVID-19 to be some of the first to travel. In the not-too-distant future, therefore, the immunity passport could grant the passage of travel for some citizens.
Will I be required to wear a mask?
At present, face masks are not a legal requirement to board an aircraft. Some airlines have prompted their passengers to do so, but ultimately the decision lies with the individual. The evidence on the effectiveness of wearing masks is somewhat mixed. Some studies say that they protect those around the wearer more than the wearer themselves. Others have entirely dismissed the value of wearing one.
In terms of whether you will be required to wear a mask after COVID-19, it looks unlikely. Passengers can still wear them as a personal preference, but they won’t probably be mandatory until substantial evidence can prove their effectiveness. What’s more, with proper checks at the airport and the certificate of immunity from a medical professional, the need to wear a mask will be sufficiently diminished.
Will boarding change?
The way that passengers board an aircraft has changed to mitigate the chance of passengers crossing paths and getting too close when in a confined space. This practice observes a form of social distancing, but will it be present on future flights?
Airlines like GoAir have been asking their passengers to board according to rows. It means that passengers are entering the plane from the back and are seated one row at a time from the front. This practice does require a little bit of effort. However, it’s similar enough to standard boarding practices.
Typically, airlines segregate passengers for boarding, but just not to this extent. If airlines still see the value in practicing social distancing, then seating passengers by rows is an easy enough procedure to perform. As a result, we could see our pattern of boarding change in the future.
What’s more, airlines could request passengers to board even earlier than before to facilitate this new structure and ensure all health and safety checks can be carried out.
Of course, no one can say for sure exactly how air travel will look post-coronavirus. However, simple-to-follow steps that build customer trust will likely remain. Another factor in considering how air travel will look is what effect the development of an antibody treatment will have. The creation of a vaccine could drastically reduce the anxiety passengers have about contracting the virus.