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More layovers and rules for bathrooms: What airline travel is about to look like.

Mamamia logo Mamamia 3 days ago Jessica Staveley

Domestic and international air travel has almost come to a complete standstill over the past few months.

Alan Joyce wearing a suit and tie: Image: Getty. © getty Image: Getty.

Although social distancing restrictions are being slowly wound back across Australia, there’s still a long way to go yet. After all, public health measures will likely be a part of our lives until an effective vaccine is made available.

Now, industries across the world, including the air travel industry, are beginning to explore how they can make a slow but safe return to a new normal.

For the air travel industry, this new reality means that a new age of air travel must take shape.

In pictures: Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world

“9/11 changed travel completely with added security checks and longer check-in times,”airline consultant Shashank Nigam, CEO and founder of SimpliFlying, said in a blog post.

“The impact of COVID-19 on air travel will be even more far-reaching.”

So, what will the new age of airline travel look like? Here’s what we know so far.

When will airline travel return to normal?

While some international travel will likely restart next year, things won’t return to normal for a few years.

Last Thursday, International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac confirmed that overseas airline travel is unlikely to return to normal until 2023.

“We have published today a new forecast about the potential recovery of air traffic, and what we see is that things should come back to normal in 2023, which is later than our previous forecast,” he said on ABC News Breakfast.

“That shows, you know, the importance and the severity of the crisis on air transport,” he added.

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He also confirmed that plans are underway to reboot air travel slowly and in stages.

“We have planned to restart the industry, first by reopening the domestic markets, then regional continental markets, such as Asia-Pacific, or Europe, or North America,” he confirmed.

“At the end of 2020, the traffic should be between 50 to 55 per cent of the same level that was in place in 2019. So, we would lose something like half the traffic for 2020.”

Where will we be able to travel?

Speaking to Mamamia, UNSW’s Dr Tony Webber, a former Qantas Group chief economist, said the natural trajectory for easing travel restrictions would likely be this:

  • within-state travel by car (which is already permitted in some states);
  • within-state air travel;
  • interstate air and car travel;
  • regional air travel;
  • and, finally, international air travel.

What will future airline travel look like?

No middle seats

In an effort to adhere to social distancing requirements, some airlines are keeping seats empty, with some airlines even completely banning the use of the middle seat.

On the other hand, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has defended the airline’s decision to not abide by social distancing restrictions on flights.

Unlike many other airlines, Qantas are not leaving the middle seat in every row empty.

Claiming there is a low risk of contracting COVID-19 on a plane, Joyce told ABC's RN Breakfast: "The cabin’s pressurised, 99.9 per cent of all viruses, all bacteria, are filtered through medical-grade filters, they are usually in operating theatres and the air is extracted every five minutes from the cabin. The air circulates from top to bottom.

"Everybody in an aircraft is facing the same direction with a barrier of a seat in front of them. The medical advice and the medical evidence shows there is a very low risk of transmission of COVID-19."

Despite not leaving middle seats empty, Qantas are providing passengers with wipes, sanitiser and face masks, which are not currently mandatory on Qantas flights.

Temperature checks

Much like many other businesses, airlines and airports are rolling out temperature checks for both crew and passengers.

Air Canada, for example, have introduced mandatory temperature checks ahead of all flights, while London's Heathrow Airport will also begin implementing widespread temperature checks.

Some airports, including Canberra Airport, have even implemented thermal scans to spot people who have an elevated temperature.

"It's going to be socially less acceptable for someone to get on an airplane who clearly isn't well," JetBlue Airways Corp. Chief Executive Robin Hayes told Wall Street Journal.

Health checks

Some destinations are looking into introducing a 'health' passport, which would ensure that tourists are virus free.

In Thailand, airports are already requiring passengers arriving from certain destinations to present a health certificate, which confirms they are COVID-19 free.

Greece, Turkey and Chile are also reportedly considering the option.

As for airlines, Emirates have been administering COVID-19 blood tests to passengers departing from Dubai since April.

Hong Kong have also introduced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arrivals. Hong Kong International Airport is also testing booths to disinfect people from head to toe in 40 seconds upon arrival.

Security

According to SimpliFlying, it's likely that each carry-on bag and security bin will need to be disinfected while entering the X-ray machine.

It's likely that measures will also be implemented to sanitise larger luggage items.

On the plane

On the plane, some airlines are beginning to require passengers to wear face masks.

For Qatar Airways employees, onboard staff will wear full body Personal Protective Equipment from May 25 – including safety goggles, gloves, a mask, and full body suits.

To reduce cross-contamination, some airlines are also removing in-flight magazines, getting rid of meal service on shorter routes, removing touch screen entertainment systems, and leaving seat-back pockets empty.


More frequent and thorough cabin cleaning may also be implemented, and hand sanitiser will likely be available in the galleries for passengers to use.

As for in-flight bathrooms, some experts have predicted that in-flight cleaners may be employed to regularly clean and disinfect airline bathrooms.

Ryanair, Europe's budget airline, is currently requiring passengers to raise their hand and seek permission before using the in-flight bathroom.

Online check-in

As per Forbes, it's likely touchless travel will see an increase, as airlines rely more on mobile boarding passes and self-service technology.

Instead of waiting in a crowded line or waiting area, passengers may instead receive a text message when it's their time to board the plane.

As for luggage, touchless self-service technology could allow passengers to check in their bags, which would then be disinfected.

As a result of the introduction of new processes like health checks and the sanitisation of bags, it's likely the process of checking in may become longer, meaning passengers will have to arrive at the airport even earlier than usual.

a person looking at the camera: overseas travel australia © getty overseas travel australia

Airfares

As social distancing measures are implemented, it's likely airfares will cost significantly more.

"If [authorities and airlines] believe that social distancing on the aircraft [on a domestic flight] is necessary — which I think they will — the only feasible solution is to leave the seat beside you vacant," Dr Webber previously told Mamamia.

"So you’re looking at a 33 per cent cut in capacity, which will typically translate into a 15 per cent increase in airfares."

Less flights

As demand for flights could drop, airlines may shrink their fleets. This means we may see fewer direct flights, meaning more frequent layovers.

Due to a reduction in business travel, there could also be fewer short-haul flights available in the future.


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