COVID-19: This is What the Future of Air Travel Could Look Like

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It’s no surprise that collecting passport stamps is going to look a lot different in response to COVID-19.   Story by Erin Davis

While the novel coronavirus has ravaged the travel industry and its major players – the airlines, hotels, and tourist attractions – with disabling force, there will come a day when travel will become a reality again (we promise).

This reality, however, will be an entirely new one, adapted with things like social distancing, heightened sanitation measures, and public health concerns top of mind. Recently, details have emerged about the future of air travel, with some of the world’s biggest airlines offering insight as to what we can expect the next time we board a flight – whenever that beautiful day may be.

Mandatory Masks
Be prepared to mask up. Major airlines like Lufthansa, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have now mandated the use of a face mask for all passengers and crew. Air France also announced that all passengers must wear masks on its flights by May 11, in compliance with French government guidelines on COVID-19 protection measures. According to the company, passengers will be required to supply the masks themselves and to wear them for the duration of their flight. Southwest, on the other hand, will supply masks to passengers who forget them. The bottom line is that – if they haven’t already – the expectation is that every major airline will soon mandate face coverings for check-in, in gate areas, on-board, and while deplaning the aircraft.

Temperature Checks
Fevers and flights don’t mix. Earlier this week, Air Canada launched Air Canada CleanCare+, a comprehensive program to offer safety and peace of mind during all stages of travel. Designed to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, the program made headlines for its new measures, most notably, the introduction of mandatory pre-flight customer temperature checks. The temperature checks are in addition to required health questionnaires, as well as customer care kits for hand cleaning and hygiene. Meanwhile, in the major travel hub of Dubai, anyone entering an airport gets scanned for signs of a fever. Taking it a step further, Emirates airline recently became the first in the world to conduct a rapid COVID-19 blood test that produces results in 10 minutes.

Social Distancing
Prepare for socially distant(ish) seat selection. A growing number of airlines have mandated social distancing measures on flights for the time being by taking steps like keeping the middle seat open on flights, blocking off sections, and even exploring the possibility of plastic screens between seats. Japan Airlines is enforcing social distancing on its domestic flights by blocking off its middle seats in economy class until June 30, 2020. In its business class flights, only eight out of its 20 seats are available for booking. Similarly, Air Canada has mandated seat assignment policies to allow for more personal space in economy class on flights until June 30, 2020. The issue with adopting this long-term, of course, is the financial sustainability of flying flights at only 2/3 of their capacity.

Heightened Sanitation
Sky-high sanitation measures are now the norm. As part its new program, Air Canada will also introduce the electrostatic spraying of cabin interiors and expand its existing aircraft grooming procedures. Alaska Airlines has enacted extra sanitation procedures for flights that remain grounded for more than one hour at a hub, with a focus on frequently touched surfaces, like armrests, seat belts, overhead controls, tray tables, and all handles and buttons. In a statement, American Airlines revealed initiatives like increased and through sanitation measures on aircraft that remain at airports overnight, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes for crew, and the removal of self-serve snack baskets.

Naturally, new ways to keep passengers and employees safe continue to emerge. The one thing we can say for certain is that change is inevitable in everything from the pre-flight restaurant experience to baggage claim. Oh, and longer wait times (don’t shoot the messenger).

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Erin Davis is a long time and regular contributor to Travel to Wellness.