Air travel in the New Normal what to expect

Jul 14, 2020 12:00 PM ET

While Coronavirus has had a drastic effect on businesses of all types and sizes, no sector has been more affected than the travel industry – and, in particular, the aviation industry.

With lockdowns now slowly easing, and an increasing number of countries establishing air ‘corridors’ or ‘bridges’ between nations, the prospect of air travel is once again back on the agenda.

Following months of lockdown, many people are again considering booking summer holidays, jetting off for a much-needed break from social isolation. However, for many, questions remain on the relative safety of air travel and what to expect if we fly.

Airport security

Most people had already come to accept the antiterrorism measures implemented at airports. The installation of bollards outside terminals, body scanning, and bag checks have long been considered just part of the process of air travel. Unfortunately, Coronavirus has brought several additional checks which we’ll have to get used to.

Individual airports and operators have their own measures in place, but, at a minimum, you should expect thermal imaging to check passenger temperatures before boarding – and most likely on landing too.

Within the terminal

Social distancing should be followed within airport terminals (as with all other enclosed spaces), and most airports have a strict policy on passengers wearing masks for the duration of their journey, including at check-in and security.

Likewise, most airports allow only passengers within the airport buildings – so say your farewells to nearest and dearest outside. The self-checking of luggage is also commonplace, to minimize the possible transference of the virus through the handling of materials.

Lastly, don’t expect the usual duty-free shops and other terminal services to be open quite yet. This varies from airport to airport, but most are currently closed.

Precautions on board

Social distancing is a pre-requisite – as is the wearing of masks on board. Many flights are operating at drastically reduced capacity, but, at a minimum, you should expect middle seats to be vacant to allow for reasonable space between passengers. If not, you should ask why, as most experts agree, this is essential for safe air travel.

The majority of airlines currently offer only minimal in-flight food. Whether this will change remains to be seen but, if food and drink policies are to be relaxed, eating and drinking will likely be staggered between areas on the aircraft to reduce the number of passengers with their masks down at the same time.

Also, do not expect in-flight magazines in the short term – most have been removed through fear of cross-contamination between passengers. Many flight companies are also restricting the amount of hand luggage within the aircraft. Check your operator’s policies before flying.

In-flight air circulation

The primary means of infection from Coronavirus is through respiratory droplets. Aircraft ventilation systems, known as HEPA (or high-efficiency particulate air), circulate air every four minutes, significantly reducing the risk of potentially-infected droplets staying air-borne.

That said, if infected droplets do land on other surfaces and are touched by passengers, there is a risk of infection, so you should sanitize all surfaces and objects within your immediate space while on board.

Risks in the air compared to on the ground

While the majority of passengers seem most scared of traveling by air, there is significant evidence to suggest a higher risk of infection exists on your way to the airport via trains, buses, or indeed cars. Aircraft ventilation systems circulate the air every four minutes, ensuring the air is either fresh or recycled. The same cannot be said for other forms of public transport, so the potential chances of infection are higher.

All things aside, personal safety boils down to taking sensible precautionary measures, including wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance, not touching your face, and washing your hands regularly. On current evidence, it seems the risks from flying are no higher than those you might face in typical day


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