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How has corona virus affects your travel plans? Borders are closed, flights schedules have been slashed, and as we stay home for the indefinite future, many of us are postponing the trips we'd been looking forward to this year. Here's the latest on the state of the industry, and the changes directly impacting you as a traveler.
Be ready for some shifts in air travel
Although we’re still in the middle of the corona virus crisis, we’re anticipating it will bring about the same kind of paradigm shift in air travel that we experienced after 9/11. We may never look at flying or airports the same way again.
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1. Entering the airport
- The first major change that travelers will notice in airports is that non-fliers will likely not be allowed inside. That’s to really ensure that the only people we’ll have to be dealing with are people that are going to be flying. This rule—already in place at airports like Los Angeles International—will make exceptions for unaccompanied minors or others who need assistance, Weston notes.
- Down the line, passengers could also pass through a disinfection tunnel and thermal scanners when entering the airport, SimpliFlying predicts. "Only those 'fit to fly' will be allowed to enter," the firm's report says. Thermal cameras, which are able to scan a crowd for a feverish temperature, are already in use at several facilities, including Heathrow, Puerto Rico's San Juan airport, and Paine Field—a secondary airport in Seattle.
- Travelers will see touchless options for checking in. You can go to a kiosk to check in using your face as [identification], and you can get your bag tag.
- You can then go to a self-bag drop machine and drop your bag. For the check-in process, the technology already exists to do that without having to interact with any airline or airport personnel.
- After it's dropped off by the passenger, luggage may also be put through a fogging tunnel to be disinfected.
- Long-term options: Make parking garages into check-in area and screening centers. The garages that are directly connected to terminals present the ideal place to house processes such as check-in, security screening, and crowd control, providing new distance controls and passenger flow metering, while also freeing the existing terminal to house more passenger amenities in a less densified arrangement.
- Security lines. Anyone who has flown during summer or the holiday season knows that TSA lines can be one of the most crowded places in the airport. That will have to change in a post-COVID-19 world.
- One interesting alternative is to have passengers book an appointment to go through security screening. Montreal airport has been using one such system for several years, in which passengers signup online for a specific time slot to pass through the security checkpoint. This would eliminate some of the crowding.
- Thermal cameras are currently being utilized in multiple airports for temperature checks, as they're the most efficient way of doing it because there isn’t any interruption of passenger flow and there’s no negative impact on capacity. But although they're effective, they're not visible to the public. It may not work to restore passenger confidence. Instead, passengers are more likely be screened with handheld, no-contact infrared thermometers once large-scale air travel starts up in a major way.
- In addition to temperature screening, other medical tests to scan for the corona virus are possible. SimpliFlying's report goes as far to predict a lung CT scan could be implemented prior to security screening. Elsewhere XpresSpa—the gate-side shop where fliers can get a manicure or shoulder massage—recently hired its first chief medical officer to start a new arm of the company: XpresTest, which aims to administer COVID-19 blood tests to airport employees.
- There are no federal requirements yet from the TSA or Federal Aviation Administration mandating such health screenings for travelers or employees. But U.S. airlines are pushing for there to be uniform federal regulations. They don't want someone getting on the airplane that has a fever.
- Once through security, passengers can expect to see more Plexiglas and other types of barriers in places like customer service counters. These additional barriers have been recommended for most passenger-facing employees by the U.S. Travel Association.
- Travelers will also notice increased cleaning measures throughout concourses. Airport employees will be cleaning and disinfecting more often, but airports like Pittsburgh and Hong Kong have also deployed sanitizing robots to constantly rid floors of the virus. Such visible disinfecting measures are also part of creating confidence in travelers. Things as simple as having a lot of hand sanitizing stations and no drinking fountains are visible things that the airport can do” to restore passenger trust, she says. In fact, Weston predicts that instead of operating 24 hours a day, airports will start closing overnight for additional deep cleans.
- In busy terminal corridors, passengers can also expect to arrows that designate where foot traffic can flow, much like on a road in order to maintain proper social distancing when on the move.
- When it comes time to get on the plane, boarding processes will use touchless options like facial recognition, too. The technology has already been used widely in the U.S. for international routes, but it may shift to domestic flights as well. “The primary reason [facial recognition] wasn’t widely used before is because there were a lot of concerns about personal privacy and data storage. Some think at least in the short term, privacy concerns are going to be considered less important than health concerns.
- Upon arrival, international passengers will likely need to show some form of immunity passport to border control agents.An immunity document is something the International Air Transport Association has advocated for as well. Weston says it’s more likely that passengers will need to present a proof of vaccine—once there is one for COVID-19—to enter other countries.
- Arriving passengers will also undergo another temperature screening at their final destination and potentially even blood tests for COVID-19. Some airports like, Hong Kong and Vienna, are testing passengers for the corona virus with a blood test before they are allowed to enter the country. Those types of tests, however, might be short lived.
- But whether it's a blood test or a temperature scan that's required, airports must be ready to deal with passengers who do have a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms. Most large airports have one isolation room, but many more will be needed as travel opens up again. The goal is to get a symptomatic person out of the main flow of passengers as quickly as possible and minimize their contact with other passengers, she says.
- While all the changes that airports will undergo are not completely clear, one thing is for sure: the facilities are about to undergo a seismic shift.
Destinations are closed and major events are canceled
As entire countries and cities have closed down, so too have historic landmarks around the world—from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Disney parks throughout the world. Disneyland Shanghai was the first of the parks to reopen this week, hopefully providing a road map for U.S. parks. Some of our favorite bars and restaurants have also shuttered for good. The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics have been postponed to 2021, with a new opening ceremony date already announced.
No one knows how long it will take to update airline procedures since some of this is driven by costs. Each airport will be developing their own standards that fit in with the government guidelines. In the meantime, stay safe, enjoy your neighbors, and get some things done that you haven't had time to do in the past.
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