Flying during COVID-19, even at the busiest airports, means no line ups, no crowds and a quick jaunt through security. Yet, as travel restrictions lift and people have had enough of staying at home, numbers will begin to surge.
What does flying during COVID-19 look like now and what will it look like in the future? Here’s how air travel is changing in response to coronavirus.
Moving through the airport
At this time last year, there were roughly 13,000 passengers a day moving through Pearson airport. Now, the number has dropped to just 5000.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation released guidance for safer travel. It recommends restricting access to lavatories and encouraging passengers to only carry on luggage that fit under their seats. This would remove the bottleneck as passengers stow items in overhead compartments.
In recent years, we’ve seen lots of automation at airports. There are self-serve kiosks for choosing seats, checking baggage, and even gate access for domestic flights. We will likely see this trend continue as airports look for ways to reduce contact with employees.
In fact, this pandemic could result in a major overhaul of the way passengers move through airports. Perhaps biometric screening and other touchless elements would allow passengers to move from curb to seat without touching anything. This would greatly reduce the risk of spreading germs.
At the gate
Before COVID-19, airlines tended to board passengers based on their status (and how much they spent on a ticket) and not based on where their seats are on the plane. The result of this boarding procedure was often bottlenecking as passengers at the rear of the plane have to wait while mid-seat passengers stow their overhead luggage.
From what we know of how coronavirus spreads, boarding is the riskiest part of taking a flight. During boarding, a passenger might come into close contact with five or six others.
Various airlines are making changes to their boarding procedures to reduce bottlenecking and limit the close proximity between passengers.
One of the simplest changes is boarding passengers back to front. This way, no passengers are walking past seated passengers to get to their seats. As a result, they are only in close proximity to their row mates. The problem with this method is that airlines like to reward frequent flyers. Airlines want to give those who spend a lot on travel or who travel often the first pick of overhead bins.
Another option is implementing mandatory social distancing measures and calling passengers by row. This is problematic for families travelling together who may not be in the same row.
Another issue with boarding a plane is the jet bridge. This is the tunnel that connects the airport to the plane. It’s small and not well ventilated which is another big concern during COVID-19. Jet bridges also normally only allow access to either the front or back door meaning all passengers have to follow one route to their seat. This can be solved by allowing passengers to board outside the terminal right from the tarmac.
This is something smaller airlines already do. This method solves a lot of issues. By taking passengers into an open-air environment, there is a huge reduction in the risk of transmission.
On the plane
Once you are on the plane in your seat, the biggest obstacles are over. Yet you are still in a small space where it is impossible to keep two meters apart.
Many passengers worry about the air quality on board. Yet, the truth is that cabin air is filtered using hospital-grade HEPA filters every five minutes. This removes more than 99% of viruses and bacteria.
Still, flying during a pandemic comes with risk. Particularly for longer flights. While a trip to the grocery store is considered low risk, flights are definitely a moderate risk.
An Italian manufacturing company called Aviointeriors recently released designs that would put transparent barriers between passengers. This would essentially give each passenger his or her own pod.
Final thoughts on air travel post COVID-19
Some of the changes at airports and on planes these days are interim while COVID-19 lingers. Yet, we can expect that COVID-19 will usher in permanent changes.
After 9/11, security screenings at airports increased dramatically. Experts believe some of the COVID-related changes including health screenings, are here to stay.
Are you ready to get on a flight for business or leisure? Let us know in the comments.
Graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors BA English Specialization and has completed several publishing courses at Ryerson University. She is a proofreader, editor, and content writer based in London, Ontario.