And you thought airport queues for check-in, security, customs, and baggage claim were slow before. Airline passengers are now being advised to arrive at the airport four hours in advance of their flight!
Assuming that airlines are successful in persuading customers that flying is safe again, there are a number of other hurdles that passengers may have to overcome, or simply tolerate, especially those thousands of summer holiday makers who will form the first wave of travellers.
Despite everyone’s best efforts to think the process through and design a system that minimises ‘friction’, it will not be until we start to travel once again that we will find out what works and what does not.
It is also worth restating that we still do not really know how this virus responds to certain conditions and how long it lives on surfaces. Though progress is being made we really do need regional, if not international consensus, on the measures we all take to mitigate the danger to passengers and limit the spread of COVID-19.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a joint document on 20 May defining measures to assure the health safety at six stages of the end-to-end passenger journey: before arrival at the airport, in the departure terminal, when boarding, in flight, in transit and on arrival at the final destination. A separate section focusses on the safety of flight crew members.
“We relied on our specialists from EASA and ECDC to define a set of concrete measures for the safe resumption of air travel within the EU. The protocol will reassure passengers that it is safe for them to fly and so help the industry recover from the effects of this pandemic,” stated European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean.
Hopefully by July, the protocols will be in place, not just in Europe but worldwide.
Some areas of obvious concern that are beyond the remit of the airlines themselves might include:
Airports - Once there, travellers will have to go through a temperature test at entry points or through security controls with contactless thermometers. In addition to safety screens at the check-in counters, safety distance will be maintained by means of visual signs on the floor. Instead of queueing to board, waiting passengers may be called by sections of the aircraft.
Carriers are also being advised to collect more information from passengers (in advance, where possible), which can be used for tracking purposes.
Some airlines may even require blood tests before you fly, or a medical certificate that verifies you have tested negative!
Ticketed passengers will no longer be able to “kiss and fly” at the security queue inside the airport: your friends and loved ones will have to say goodbye at the kerb outside.
It should continue to be stressed that the minimum time at an airport remains the goal.
On arrival at your destination, more health checks at customs or baggage claim.
Hotels - Your hotel may insist on further health checks at reception (and perhaps every time you return during your stay!). There are already suggestions that individuals and families should not get in an elevator already occupied by others they do not know. “To get to breakfast, allow 30 minutes after leaving your room, or use the stairs” is not going to please many.
At any stage in the process you may be deemed ‘a risk’ to others. What then? Do you go home? If so how? Special ‘COVID-positive’ flights perhaps? Or must you stay at special COVID-quarantine hotels until you are deemed safe to emerge into the sunshine?
Then of course, the UK has decided that its citizens need additional protection and no one allowed in from the outside will be permitted to move for two weeks. In which case, why travel to the UK, and why would other countries allow British citizens and residents to fly into their countries? (France, for example, has a reciprocal quarantine on travellers from the UK.) BA is challenging the government policy in the courts
It would seem that we need clear instructions for all organisations operating in the travel sector, and flouting them must incur very heavy penalties; immediate closure being the first.
Additionally, travellers must take responsibility for their own decisions and should sign a legally enforcible document that protects suppliers, assuming they have met all the instructions. A ‘no fault’ approach will only work with the consensus of the legal profession.
What we do know of this pandemic is that while it has little or no effect on the vast majority, it does kill! Especially those with pre-existing conditions and seniors. Should people to whom either or both apply be advised not to travel and if they decide to ignore safety advice, what then?