Experts predict future of air travel

New normal: slow check-in, disinfection, immunity passes, biometric boarding

- A Monitor Desk Report 12 May, 2020 | 1744 Views|-+
Dhaka: The coronavirus pandemic not only hit aviation and travel industry hard but also its impact is about to reshape air travel in the post outbreak era, according to industry experts.

Once airports and borders reopen and people are able to fly freely — a process already in play as airports of all sizes around the world prepare strategies to ensure healthy air travel — passengers should have to get used to new flying habits.

For starters, the entire process of check-in for flights, which some calculate, could take up to four hours involving social distancing, sanitation of passengers and luggage, wider spaces for various lines and waiting to board.

Experts expect slower turnarounds between flights due to the need of thorough cleaning of cabins and following of sanitary measures at airports.

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.

A number of airlines including British Airways, Qantas and EasyJet already are using the technology.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), “the ‘new normal’ at major airports, such as Heathrow, JFK and Singapore Changi will include almost exclusive use of online check-ins, and contactless payments."

Also, the airports will have to make some radical changes, possibly starting with stopping non-fliers from entering at all except for unaccompanied minors or others who need assistance.

They will need more extensive all-biometric check-in systems and efficient DYI for dropping off bags, ‘travel bubbles,’ or tunnels for disinfection. After being checked in, luggage may also be put through a disinfection fogging tunnel.

They must install demarcation of the spaces too 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.

"Only those 'fit to fly' will be allowed to enter," predicts an airline strategy firm in a recent report, where it identifies more than 70 different areas in the passenger journey that “are expected to either change or to be introduced from scratch, including having bags ‘sanitagged’ after going through fogging, electrostatic or UV-disinfection to restore confidence in flying after COVID-19.”

London Heathrow said it is to begin trialling UV-sanitation process for its security trays.

The boarding process is also expected to become ‘touchless,’ with options including facial recognition, already used in some US 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 is 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, experts forecasts, 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,” a report said. “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.”

Thermal testing is also recommended by IATA, “while Airlines UK, which represents British Airways, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, has said ‘pre-screening’ of travellers should be introduced ideally as early in the passenger journey as possible,” according to a news report.

“There will be new protocols for check-in involving digital technology; hand sanitiser 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 said in a recent report.

The international institution says that the sector will face a gradual return to travel over the coming months as a “new normal” emerges before a vaccine becomes available on a mass scale, large enough to inoculate billions of people.

According to Gloria Guevara, President and CEO, WTTC, travelling in the ‘new normal’ age requires coordinated actions, including new standards and protocols, “for a safe and responsible road to recovery for the global Travel and Tourism sector as consumers start planning trips again.”

The new protocols and standards are being defined following feedback from associations representing the different travel sectors including International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Airport Council International (ACI), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), United States Travel Association (USTA), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Travel Commission (ETC) and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

However, with protocols and standards, biometric systems, immunity passports and the best intentions for a safe road to recovery, the future of travelling, reports states, is still bleak: “With much of the world closed for business, and no widely available vaccine in sight, it may be months, if not years, before airlines operate as many flights as they did before the crisis. Even when people start flying again, the industry could be transformed, much as it was after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

Also, consumer fears about catching the virus on crowded planes could lead to reconfigured seating on board. Airlines may initially entice cautious travellers with discounts, but if failed to fill up flights, they may resort to raising airfare.

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