As India opened up its domestic skies partially on Monday, some fliers, airlines and airports got a feel of what flying in the post-Covid environment is going to be like.
However, as more countries remove flying restrictions world over, the global aviation sector is confronted with a big question: how do airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports and others connected with the sector get back fliers by convincing them that it is safe to fly again in the post-Covid 19 world?
American aircraft manufacturer Boeing wants flyers to feel comfortable that the planes are safely disinfected and that the cabin air quality is clean and it is a good environment to be in. To achieve this, Boeing is taking a multi-layered approach that involves working with airports and airlines to make sure that the cabins are properly disinfected.
“Many airlines and regulatory authorities are asking passengers to wear face coverings and asking cabin crew to wear masks for that extra layer of protection. We will encourage people to feel safe once these protective measures are all in place,” Jim Hass, Director, Product Marketing, Boeing, said in a global media conference call, adding, “We want to reinforce that flying is one of the safest ways of travel. With the multi-layers of protection from the airport to the planes, we want passengers to get on a plane without hesitation.”
Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice-President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, agrees.
In his conference call with global media he said that there is no silver bullet for the pandemic and hence a multi-layered approach is the way forward.
IATA foresees several layers of protective measures, including access to the terminal at the departure airport being restricted to airport/airline workers (with exceptions being made for those accompanying passengers with disabilities or unaccompanied minors) and self-service options for check-in being used by passengers as much as possible to reduce contact points and queues.
Remote check-ins and automated bag drop are also being considered. IATA also suggests that, where possible in the pre-flight stage, more detailed passenger information should be available so that tracing a passenger who might be infected by the coronavirus is easier.
In-flight part of journey
For the inflight part of the journey, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures, including face covering required for all passengers and non-surgical masks for crew and simplified cabin service, and pre-packaged catering to reduce interaction between passengers and the crew.
At the arrival airport, IATA sees several layers of protective measures, including accelerated processing and baggage reclaim to enable social distancing by reducing congestion and queuing.
In addition, Boeing is also working at developing new technologies such as anti-microbial surfaces and ultra violet light disinfectants. “If a virus or a bacteria lands on the anti-microbial surface then the coating on the surface will eventually destroy the virus or bacteria,” Hass said, adding that this can be applied to in-service on flights.
This technology is available with some manufacturers either as a spray or a paint-on coating.
“It is a supplement procedure that a number of airlines are looking at. It does not take the place of disinfecting. The anti-microbial coating that airlines can put on or spray lasts depending on the coating, from 30 days to a year or more. It is a longer-term coating, it is not a between-flight coating,” he said.
Boeing’s strategy might just be what passengers are looking for. A survey on “Passenger in Focus post-Covid 19,’’ by Aerotech Support Services points out that 90 per cent of the people surveyed opted for regular sanitisation of all touch points and washrooms.
All these steps are needed as, according to Careen, the industry is beginning to see passengers come back. “It varies from country to country. Some of the countries where the pandemic originated are seeing traffic picking again. We are seeing it happen, possibly more domestically at first than international travel. But it is starting to come back,” he said.
However, Aerotech’s survey says that fliers’ confidence in terms of safe, secure and reliable flying is yet to be restored and remains an area of concern.
The survey shows that almost half of those surveyed preferred travelling after six months of flights resuming and they wanted the cost of PPE (personal protective equipment) to form part of the flight ticket.
Measures at airports
Airports too are looking at offering more contactless travel options for passengers. Some airports already have strict measures in place. For example, London’s Heathrow airport is asking passengers not to come to the airport unless they are travelling, adding that those passengers who do come into the terminals for essential travel need to adhere to the UK government's two-metre social distancing guidelines.
Additionally, Heathrow is also asking passengers to arrive at least two hours before a European flight and three hours before a long-haul flight. It is also reminding passengers that the Foreign Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential foreign travel.
Similarly, Hamad airport in Doha is recommending that a passenger arrive three hours before the departure of the flight. But e-gates at the airport are currently not available. In addition, most food and beverages outlets are shut, with those that are open maintaining strict social distancing norms.
Besides, escalators, moving walkalators, elevators, complementary baby strollers and prayer rooms are unavailable to passengers.
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