If you thought traveling by air was a sometimes difficult experience, it may become much worse post-COVID. The airline industry, while desperate to get you back flying is also acutely aware that it can be a prime environment for the spread of the virus, and between them and the airports you can expect a raft of new safety and health measures to impact your ‘traveling experience’.
But when will travel recover? According to the Avi Meir, CEO of TravelPerk, “it’s the million-dollar question. The short answer is nobody knows for sure. Travel will recover in stages and freedom to travel will vary, not only country-by-county but by region. Also, multiple factors will influence travel such as whether social distancing on planes is economically viable for carriers, the reliability of antibody tests, and if immunity is lasting, to name but a few. The experts forecast that domestic travel will begin to recover around October, whereas international travel will take around 18 months to return to ‘normal’.
Here are some experts’ opinions on the measures you might expect to see implemented in the future.
There will be a shift to ‘touchless travel’ from airport curbside to hotel check-in. Even with strict cleaning protocols in place, exchanging travel documents and touching surfaces through check-in, security, border control, and boarding still represent a significant risk of infection for both travelers and staff. Touchless procedures could in the use of biometrics to check your identity, smartphones, etc.
Security check-in appointments
Passengers may be asked to signup online for a specific time slot to pass through the security checkpoint.
Non-travelers must stay in the car
The first major change that travelers will notice in airports is that non-fliers will likely not be allowed inside. This rule—already in place at airports like Los Angeles International—will make exceptions for unaccompanied minors or others who need assistance, Weston notes.
Down the line, you could also pass through a disinfection tunnel and thermal scanners when entering the airport, travel website SimpliFlying predicts. “Only those ‘fit to fly’ will be allowed to enter,” the firm’s report says. Thermal cameras, which can scan a crowd for a feverish temperature, are already in use at several facilities, including London Heathrow, Puerto Rico’s San Juan airport, and Paine Field in Seattle.
Check-in from the car lot.
Another long-term option is to make parking garages into check-in area and screening centers, The garages that are directly connected to terminals present the ideal place to house processes such as check-in, security screening, and crowd control,
Major changes in the terminal
Travelers will also notice increased cleaning measures throughout concourses. Airport employees will be cleaning and disinfecting more often, but airports like Pittsburgh and Hong Kong have also deployed sanitizing robots to constantly rid floors of the virus.
In busy terminal corridors, passengers can also expect to arrows that designate where foot traffic can flow, much like on a road Weston says, to maintain proper social distancing when on the move.
When it comes time to get on the plane, boarding processes will use a touch fewer options like facial recognition, too.
Upon arrival, international passengers will likely need to show some form of immunity passport to border control agents, SimpliFlying predicts. Arriving passengers could also undergo another temperature screening at their final destination and potentially even blood tests for COVID-19. 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.
In some instances, entry could be refused unless you have a certificate of immunity since you’ve recovered from an infection or because you’ve been vaccinated (once there are vaccines available). Wristbands with barcodes like those in the movie Contagion are a very real prospect.
You’ll pack differently
Along with hand sanitizer travel packs, a lot more people will travel with masks.
Insurance will drastically change
Be careful though, often travel “insurance” doesn’t cover you for many things, including the outbreak of a pandemic. Either airline providers or insurance companies are going to have to change to accommodate our new reality. As TravelPerk’s CEO Avi Meir explains: “we saw the need for flexibility even before the current crisis. It’s why we created something different and better than insurance called FlexiPerk, allowing you to cancel a trip for any reason, up to a couple of hours before take-off”.
Society won’t like you when you’re sick
The looks you will get if you cough or sneeze at an airport or on a plane will be scathing. I predict that social stigma will put a lot of people off, resulting in the potential for more no-shows on travel days.
You’ll take the train before the plane
Domestic travel will recover first (there’s no border control) and for most countries, that means taking a train. Trains are less crowded, have windows that open, and also are much more environmentally friendly.
Airline companies will advertise their air quality
Any idea what grade air filter Lufthansa uses on their flights? How about British Airways? Korean Air? Which Airbus model has the cleanest air? Do Boeing planes have fewer microbes in the air? No idea? Well, you may not know now, but once we’re flying again, airlines will start promoting the measures they are taking to improve airline quality.
Business Insider has its list of the changes:
– You might be required to take a blood test or nasal swab ahead of a flight or upon arrival.
– Temperature checks might become the norm. Air Canada and Frontier have already introduced this procedure.
– Since masks have become mandatory in public in many places, it comes as no surprise that most airlines will want you to wear them all the time.
– Forget crowded lines — you could start getting texts telling you it’s time to board.
– Flight attendants might start wearing full-body protective gear over their uniforms.
– Bags may need to get sanitized separately.
– You might need to show ID, as well as some sort of immunity document or health certificate. This is already taking place in Thailand
– To go through all these extra procedures, travelers can expect an extra four hours for check-in.
All in all travel by air will not be a quick or happy experience, and each airline will no doubt try to do their best to make it as safe and as ‘enjoyable’ as possible. What has yet to be seen is the effect all of these measures will have on airfares. Stand by for another unpleasant surprise.
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