From immunity passports and temperature checks, to hazmat suits for crew and arrival quarantines for passengers, flying will be different in the viral age. Olivia Palamountain reports
It’s thanks to advances in aviation over the past century that we have been afforded what is easily one of the greatest privileges of the modern age: the freedom to travel the world. But with the dawn of Covid-19, the ease and efficacy with which we fly is under threat and likely never to look the same again. Are you ready for the new normal?
Before you fly
Remember when pre-flight preparation used to be as simple as making sure that cabin baggage essentials were kept under 100mls? The future looks more complex as governments investigate stringent new travel requirements such as compulsory virus tests (taken 48 hours before departure) and “immunity passports” – documentation proving travellers have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 or have tested negative for the virus.
We could see these in digital format, with blockchain technology granting certificates to be verified by any mobile phone that can read a QR code. That’s if you’re allowed to fly at all, with some demanding that only passengers deemed as low risk be allowed entry to airports in the first place.
Thriva has just started selling UK government-approved antibody blood tests at cost price online for £59.
What to wear?
Travel chic gets a biological warfare makeover with face masks (and in some cases, gloves) now compulsory for passengers in the check-in areas, premium lounges, boarding gates and onboard at KLM, Emirates and Delta, with Air Asia, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Delta, Emirates, EVA Air, IATA, KLM, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Wizz Air following suit.
Unlike plastic bags for cabin baggage liquids, passengers are responsible for providing their own mask or face covering. Cabin crew, boarding agents and ground staff will wear additional PPE including protective gowns over their uniforms and a safety visor, in addition to masks and gloves (a requirement of all Emirates passengers flying from Dubai International right now).
In a vote for style and substance, AirAsia is trialing customised cabin crew PPE, designed by Filipino fashion designer Puey Quinones and rendered in the airline’s signature scarlet.
Moving forward, protective features will be built into cabin crew uniforms as standard, while travel wear for passengers will get a PPE makeover. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi have already released sell-out masks and luxury fashion houses will continue to capitalise on this retail space with all manner of branded PPE, from gowns and gloves, to full-on bodysuits.
LA-based Production Club has designed a half-body hazmat suit for clubbers, while Vollebak has created an anti-microbial jacket made from copper costing £895.Vollebak co-founder Steve Tidball says: “As we enter a new era of disease, the Earth heats up, and fires and floods sweep across countries, we’re radically underprepared as a species for the speed at which change is taking place.
“With normality shifting beneath us, our survival systems need to adapt – from emergency planning and infrastructure, to our architecture and clothing. So we’re doubling down on our mission to design clothing for the needs of the next century rather than the next season. Disease resistance will become a requirement of clothing in the future, and that’s why we’re starting to work with copper now.”
Whether you’re an airport early bird or a travel ninja that cuts it fine, departures will never be the same again. Social-distancing efforts will be in effect immediately on entry with terminal concourses and corridors demarcated into zones.
Staffing will be stripped back to minimise human contact with additional protection provided by screens at check-in desks. Touchless check-in terminals and kiosks will replace these in time, operated via QR codes or voice commands. Paper boarding passes will be obsolete.
To reduce large gatherings, lounge services – including all food and beverage offerings, bathrooms and shower facilities – will be suspended, waiting areas will be expanded and queues will be widely spaced. Hand-sanitising stations will be installed throughout public spaces.
Cabin baggage may be prohibited, with the exception of absolute necessities – a laptop, handbag, briefcase or baby items – to keep aircraft interiors as sanitary as possible. Aside from arriving at least three hours before every flight, additional admin and waiting times are expected at every turn.
Not only will this spell the end of our love affair with speedy getaways, it could sound the death knell for low-cost carriers and the 30-minute turnaround on which they base much of their business model.
The likes of Ryanair are requiring all passengers flying in July and August to provide details (at point of check-in) of how long their planned visit will be and their arrival address in any other EU country. This contact information will be shared with EU governments to help them to monitor isolation regulations.
A push to identify ill travellers before they fly will become commonplace. Airports are already required to carry out temperature checks by some countries, a protocol that is likely to be rolled out across the board through use of handheld infrared thermometers, ear gun thermometers and full-body infrared scanners.Dubai airport is pioneering the last, along with Covid-19 blood tests and contactless tech that can identify early illness symptoms whereby travellers’ heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature are all screened at key airport locations.
In the UK, facial recognition thermal screening technology is currently under trial at Heathrow, along with contact-free security screening equipment and UV sanitation, which quickly and efficiently sanitises security trays.
Similar technology is being explored at Pittsburgh International, this time applied by ultraviolet “robots”, while at Hong Kong airport, antimicrobial coatings that destroy germs, bacteria and viruses have been sprayed on to high-touch surfaces such as handles, check-in counters, baggage trolleys and elevator buttons.
Passengers are also getting a next level scrub down in Hong Kong airport’s “CLeanTech” booths, futuristic full-body disinfecting machines involving a temperature check before 40 seconds of “sanitising procedures”.
What’s in store on board?
Airlines have been quick to react to enhanced cleaning measures with most aircraft now subject to electrostatic spraying or “fogging” to kill all germs and viruses after each flight. Moving forward, flights could feature additional crew such as in-flight janitors to continually disinfect high-touch areas.
We are now all germaphobes: high anxiety coupled with additional onboard rules and regulations could lead to passenger disputes so additional security staff may also become necessary to monitor adherence to rules and keep the peace.
Instead of a welcome drink or snack, passengers could be provided with cleansing wipes, while a pre-recorded lecture regarding sanitisation onboard plays with the safety demonstration.
Even aircraft toilets are undergoing a social distancing makeover: queuing will be prohibited onboard with Ryanair although lavatory access will be made available to individual passengers upon request.
Contrary to fears one might have about the cleanliness of the recycled air on board, the International Air Transport Association explains that all aircraft are actually fitted with HEPA filters that “remove particulate and bacterial contamination”, providing the same level of air filtration as many hospital operating theatres.
However, this doesn’t solve the problem of close proximity. A fundamental tenet of the profitability of air travel is fitting as many people as possible onto each flight, so blocking out middle seats to allow for social distancing is not deemed a viable long term solution. However, airlines such as Delta and Emirates have affected this for the time being, alongside pausing automatic upgrades and boarding people in small groups.
No-frills carriers rely on packed flights more than most, but Easyjet expects socially distanced flights to be possible in the short term, unlike rival Ryanair, which has vetoed the concept and intends to restore 40 per cent of its normal flight schedules from July 1.
However, first and business-class cabins will offer added reassurance in the air, especially for people flying in a self-contained space with a sliding privacy door (check out British Airways’s Club Suite). While passengers are currently guinea pigs in air travel’s struggle for survival in a post-Covid-19 world, cabin design of the future will be revolutionised to accommodate tried and tested health and safety requirements.
Elements of the cabin and seating could be designed to offer quick release and replace assemblies, enabling thorough cleaning routines to take place, potentially off the aircraft to enable maximum efficiency and keep planes flying.
Already in development is Janus, a seat concept from Aviointeriors comprising a forwards-backwards, double-S-shaped, wraparound shell format, with an added head-level transparent thermoplastic screen to shield and protect – with a bit of luck it could make economy travel more comfortable for us all in the long run.The rumble of the trolley cart is always a welcome distraction but suspended or streamlined catering services mean that the days of a hot meal service and booze on tap are numbered – for now. While pre-packaged refreshments are still being served on some airline routes (bento-style snack boxes are on offer at Emirates and BA), most short haul F&B options have been scrapped.
Customers are now encouraged to supply their own food but since many airport shops and restaurants could remain closed, it’s recommended to load up on sustenance from home. Alcoholic beverages are no longer available at BA, the distribution of menus has been stopped and glassware and crockery is now disposable (bad news for the environment).
Further perks scrapped at Delta include hot towel service and glassware, although drinks trolleys remain in use. Foodwise, first class passengers don’t fare much better either: think a one-tray meal on long haul flights at American Airlines instead of the usual ice cream sundaes and warmed-on-board cookies.
Almost all duty-free onboard shopping has been discontinued (so no more dodgy last minute gifts or impulse buys), however where spending is still available it’s strictly cashless.
Looking forward to soaking up some travel inspo from the in-flight magazines? Forget it, seatbacks are now empty with all print reading materials axed.
Since avoiding touch points is a priority, passengers are using personal devices for now, but looking to the future, any touchscreen in-flight entertainment displays, crew call buttons and toilet door locks could be replaced with voice-activated technology – or perhaps we’ll see a renewed interest in gesture control.
The need for “healthy interactions” will become a playground for AI, and cabins and seating will both become smarter, helping to protect passengers and crew.
Compulsory quarantine for passengers is gathering momentum around the world. All travellers arriving into Austria must either present a medical certificate (not more than four days old) showing a negative Covid-19 result, or begin two weeks of quarantine.
On-site coronavirus testing at Vienna airport is supporting this enforcement: costing around £166, it delivers results in under three hours. Test negative and you are exempt from 14 days of self-isolating. This two-week period of quarantine is also in force in Spain, Ireland, Cyprus, Italy (currently only allowing entry to nationals repatriating – or for serious health or business reasons), France, Jordan, Malta, Portugal and Romania.
Greece, however, is planning to host tourists without restrictions from June 1. Planning a Grecian getaway from the UK? You’ll still have to quarantine on your return, with all UK arrivals (including Britons returning from abroad) required to self-isolate for two weeks.
However, there is now hope that governments may open up “air bridges” between pairs of countries that have achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection, thus allowing them to be exempt from quarantine rules. “This would boost confidence in aviation travel and target safety where it is most needed,” says UK transport secretary Grant Shapps.
The transformation of the travel industry and the way we fly following Covid-19 will be tremendous. Shifting values will spark a revolution in behaviour and attitude, both from the airlines that are investing in their future at the same time as protecting their finances and from passengers as they try to protect their health in parallel with satisfying their desire to see the world.
To protect the privilege of travel we must respond to these new values and concerns together, in the way in which we design and with new methods of working.
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