Air travel is set to undergo massive changes in the near future. From thermal scans and sealed meals to immunity certificates, the new age of sanitised travel will be unlike anything we have seen before
Recently, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted a photo of passengers travelling on a repatriation flight from Singapore to Delhi. They were all wearing face shields. The minister quoted the lyrics of the popular Bob Dylan song, The Times are a Changing, saying, “Preventive measures are the new normal. Changes are here to stay.”
India may have decided to resume domestic flights, but air travel is set to undergo massive changes in the near future and travellers will have to adapt to the new realities. From pre-packed and sealed meals, immunity passports, buying masks/gloves to paying more for an empty seat next to them, the new age of sanitised travel will be unlike anything we have seen before.
According to Gloria Guevara, president and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travelling in the ‘new normal’ age requires coordinated actions, including new standards and protocols “for a safe and responsible road to recovery for the global travel and tourism sector as consumers start planning trips again.”
New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has drafted a protocol to keep passengers and staff safe when operations resume. For one, airlines will be allocated specific gates. Thermal scans, social distancing, masks and UV disinfection tunnel treatment for baggage are a few mandatory steps apart from downloading the government’s Aarogya Setu app, which has been developed to track Covid-19 patients.
In April, Preferred Hotels & Resorts conducted a global future travel survey with nearly 4,000 I Prefer (a guest loyalty programme) members. The survey revealed positive attitude towards travel for the second half of 2020. More than 50% of the respondents wanted to book a trip in 2020, 75% planned to travel with family and more than 50% intended to travel regionally.
A recent report by global airline strategy firm SimpliFlying predicts more than 70 ways in which air travel will be different in the future. Expect, for instance, the use of personal devices to grow as passengers would avoid touching seat-back screens. There will be no cash transactions, or passengers wiping their own seats. A social-distancing-friendly class, touchless cabin, in-flight janitor and a document to prove immunity are also on the cards.
There could be a check-in counter for instant assessment of health. Some airlines may administer blood tests as well. Emirates, in fact, began administering Covid-19 blood tests to passengers departing from its hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in April. The tests gave results within 10 minutes. Hong Kong and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, too, have introduced mandatory testing for all arrivals. Air Canada is also set to introduce mandatory temperature checks ahead of flights. Check-in agents will be behind protective barriers like those found in pharmacies.
American airports, too, will likely add temperature-check gates that will alert quarantine officers of anyone who seems to have a fever. Many airlines will take bookings for aisle and window seats only. This means the airplane design might incorporate social distancing measures in the future. Italian company Aviointeriors has proposed social distancing solutions, with the ‘Janus’ seat, a backwards middle seat, that ensures maximum isolation between passengers. The seat is surrounded on three sides by a high shield.
SITA, a leading IT solutions provider for the aviation sector, identified three areas in the aviation sector that will impact recovery and beyond: first, focus on how to drive new operational cost efficiencies. Second, post-2020, will the industry add ‘health’ as one of the major considerations for travel? And last, will we see new norms and regulations linked to sustainability? Will concerns around sustainability see passengers shy away from short-haul travel to more infrequent long-haul trips?
Digital technologies and automation will play a critical role. Self-service technologies at every step will facilitate passenger flow, cutting queues while ensuring a social distancing-friendly passenger experience. Through the use of biometrics and next-generation touchpoints, SITA is enabling a low-touch airport experience. For example, using SITA Flex platform, passengers can operate process points such as kiosks, using their own mobile devices without the need to touch screens at the airport.
This solution has been successfully implemented at San Francisco Airport. SITA data from April shows the number of flights dropped by almost 80% globally and more than 90% in Europe compared to last year. Major airlines have suspended operations and airport terminals have been shuttered.
IndiGo, too, plans to follow stringent safety measures with staff and crew wearing PPE at check-in counters and boarding gates, including masks, gloves and shoe covers. There will be temporary discontinuation of onboard meal services. “Areas that are most often touched—tray tables, arm rests, overhead nozzles, lavatories, galleys—would be disinfected. We do frequent deep cleaning of aircraft and allow fresh air to enter through the engines, which passes through our High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, and is then circulated in the cabin. HEPA ensures hospital-level filtration in the aircraft,” said the company spokesperson.
International Air Transport Association estimated in April that the crisis will see airline passenger revenues drop by $314 billion in 2020, a 55% decline compared to 2019. Fares will rise by up to 54% in some places because of social distancing measures. Social distancing measures would also reduce planes’ maximum load factors to 62%—most airlines need their planes to be 77% full to break even.