New age of air travel post-lockdown to witness half-empty aircraft, temperature checks at airports

WION New Delhi May 20, 2020, 04.34 PM(IST) Written By: Akanksha Swarup

Halt on air travel Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Half-empty aircraft and temperature checks at airports using thermal scans to spot people with fever, temperature checks rolled out for passengers and crew will be some of the new measures in place

As the coronavirus lockdowns are being lifted around the world, carriers and airports desperate for passengers are finally opening up airways with safety protocols being rolled out which include fewer flights, more layovers, and hygiene rules.

The new airline travel post-COVID-19 shapes a new age of air travel as airlines modify services post-lockdown measures to resurrect the struggling aviation sector.

Half-empty aircraft and temperature checks at airports using thermal scans to spot people with fever, temperature checks rolled out for passengers and crew will be some of the new measures in place.

Most airlines have made wearing masks mandatory. Some airlines have removed in-flight magazines and meals. Parking of big planes has impacted international travel. Kazakhstan's Air Astana has put together guidelines to follow social distancing. Thailand has mandated no in-flight food or water and made it clear that passengers must wear masks.

In Indonesia, passengers must provide medical certificates.

According to the Airport Authority of India guidelines, passengers must download the Aarogya Setu app, wear a mask and other protective gear, maintain social distancing of at least four feet distance, ensure web check-in, carry printout of boarding pass, wash and sanitize hands frequently and cooperate with airport staff

Temperature checks, thermal scanners, half-empty aircraft, hand sanitizers, masked passengers and crew has now become normal in the new age of air travel across the globe.

As coronavirus worries ease in China, passengers are ready to take off, however, some feel confident, while others are still a bit uneasy. 

"I more or less don't feel that worried anymore, that's how I feel now," Gao Jie, fitness blogger, said.

"Asymptomatic cases, that's the main thing which worries me," said Ba Tuo who arrived in Beijing on a flight from Xinjiang
 
Several air carriers like Air France are boarding passengers seated at the back of the aircraft first to limit traffic jams in the aisle. Some are removing in-flight magazines, scrapping meal services on shorter routes, and parking the duty-free cart.

For many like Korean Air there is a company requirement for some seats in the middle of the plane to remain unoccupied.  

"Starting from March 9 which is when COVID-19 emerged, we have allocated seats based on the number of reservations in order to maintain distance between passengers who are on board," Kim Dong-Wook, deputy general manager at Korean Air, said.

However, Australia's Qantas is set to ramp up domestic flights without social distancing since the air carrier finds it an impractical measure.

"Now social distancing on an aircraft is impractical, to give you a sum of the numbers. International Air Transport Association has come out and said that if we take the middle seat out, airfares will probably go up by around 50 per cent, they're not recommending it, the European Union isn't which means airfares are going to be eight to nine times more than they are today," Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO said.

While aircraft in Malaysia and Indonesia need to be half-empty, for airlines in the United States and Europe, the rule is not mandatory.

Carriers like Lufthansa have made it mandatory to wear a mask on board even as its first flight from Germany touched down in Greece, instructions by the civil authority officials followed soon after disembarking.

"Those of you that are negative, and I hope you all are, you will continue to quarantine at the place of residence you have declared. Pay attention: we do not go out during the quarantine, we don't move around, they will look for you, there is a Euro 5,000 fine, along with criminal consequences," the civil protection authority told passengers.

Exiting passengers were being accommodated in a hotel until the results of their coronavirus tests arrive.

"I will quarantine in Zakynthos, but maybe I have to wait now several hours until I know the result, and then I want to travel as fast as I can there," Michaela Schmidt, who works in the tourism industry on Zakynthos island while returning to Greece for work from Austria, said.

While India has taken a cautious approach, Pakistan has already resumed domestic operations in five cities with 60 per cent capacity. Pakistan's total number of flights has dropped from 369 to 68 due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

With most countries resuming domestic operations, international travel will be some of the last to recover, for American Airlines like Delta, widebodied planes like Boeing 777 that flew long haul international routes are now being parked in droves, however, with safety protocols now in place, the coronavirus-ravaged aviation sector is set to eventually take off.