At the moment, most of us are not even allowed to leave the house for more than half an hour for a quick run, let alone take a plane and depart the country. Our civil liberties have been dramatically curtailed and we’re still trying to predict when flights will resume for the UK (summer breaks abroad are almost certainly off the table). For frequent jet-setters it can feel unbearable, but the world is a different place now and will remain forever changed.
Although very few people are flying right now (those who are permitted to are almost exclusively travellers being repatriated to their own countries – no one is going on holiday), there are indicators of how the new normal will look. Airlines such as Delta and Emirates have undertaken measures to increase the health and safety of passengers, such as blocking out middle seats on planes, reducing the overall number of passengers allowed, pausing automatic upgrades, boarding people 10 at a time and using electrostatic spraying – or ‘fogging’ – to kill all germs and viruses in the aircraft at the end of the day.
In the future, these kinds of procedures will likely be adopted by all airlines as they start flying again. Travelling with cabin baggage may be banned – with the exception of a laptop, handbag, briefcase or baby items – to keep aircraft interiors as sanitary as possible. Hand-sanitising stations will be installed throughout public spaces.
Where possible, people will drive to the airport in their own cars rather than use public transport or even taxis. Upon arrival, social-distancing signage will demarcate terminal concourses and corridors into safe zones. Before entering the building, passengers might need to have their temperatures taken with a thermal scanner – there may also be obligatory on-the-spot blood tests to check for infection. If ‘immunity passports’ have been adopted, this would be the time to show them.
Inside the airport there could be far more automation – from DIY check-ins and bag drops to robotic cleaners – and fewer staff on hand to help. It’s likely there will be no more person-to-person pat downs at security or handing over paper boarding passes, and there will be protective barriers at any desks staffed by humans. To help reduce gatherings of people in close quarters, waiting areas at the gate, for example, will need to be expanded. (Initially, there will be far fewer people flying so it may not be a major problem.) Queues will be widely spaced. Lounges may remain closed.
On the plane, seats will be pre-allocated with gaps created between individuals and groups. Cabin crew will be dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE), such as plastic gowns over their uniforms, perspex visors, masks and gloves. You might feel as if you are in a flying hospital but at least it will be far less crowded. Economy passengers will feel a bit like VIPs, with more space than they’ve ever had – not to mention immaculate seats and in-flight entertainment screens, plus possible priority boarding from the back of the plane. Pre-packaged refreshments may be served, but many airports shops and restaurants could remain closed.
Contrary to fears one might have about the cleanliness of the recycled air on board, the International Air Transport Association explains that all aircraft are actually fitted with HEPA filters that ‘remove particulate and bacterial contamination’, providing the same level of air filtration as many hospital operating theatres. A briefing paper the association published stated that ‘The cabin air system is designed to operate most efficiently by delivering approximately 50 per cent outside air and 50 per cent filtered, recirculated air. Cabin air circulation is continuous. Air is always flowing into and out of the cabin. Total airflow to the cabin is supplied at a bulk flow rate equivalent to 20 to 30 air changes per hour.’ So that’s reassuring, but you will have to wear your mask and gloves for the duration of the journey as an added precaution. (The Deep Sleep Cocoon jacket from Vollebak zips all the way over the head and face – ideal for night flights when passengers need to sleep.) (Source: Drawn from The Traveller of The Times)