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Muhammed Yılmaz

How COVID-19 has Changed Air Travel?

Issue 5 - 2020
How COVID-19 has Changed Air Travel?

The Aviation industry is among the sectors most affected by social problems and major crises. These types of incidents have always paved the way for the change and for the implementation of these rules and regulations in the sector. The detailed X-Ray checks and the higher level of security were included in standard implementations that became compulsory in aviation in the wake of 9/11 attacks. The background of many procedures that are presently considered ‘normal’ during our travel experience is based on a variety of real life, and life changing experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the humans on a global scale, and it was also expected to radically change all processes throughout the course of air travel, and everyone anticipated that nothing would be the same on flights post- pandemic. This thesis started to justify itself especially after signs of revival in the sector that emerged during the second half of May. 

The innovation that welcomes us from the very moment we step into the airport covers all processes involved in our journey from the point of our arrival to the moment that we leave the airport at our destination. While some of these new processes that have been implemented at airports and on flights will be temporary, some will be permanent and will remain within the new norms of aviation. 

New implementations starting at the gate of the airport 

At your first flight, you will have to say goodbye to your families and friends coming to send you off at the terminal gate. From now on, only the passengers and airport staff will be occupied at the airport terminals. If you plan to make a domestic line travel in Turkey, you will also have to personally submit your ‘Life at Home’ (HES) code even before you enter the terminal gate. 

You most probably wear a mask if you use public transportation to get to the airport. But if you come to the airport with your own car or exclusive airport transfer, then be prepared to wear your mask from the moment you step into the terminal. Wearing a mask is enforced at all stages of travel until you arrive at your destination and leave the airport. In order to hinder the virus from entering into the airport, passengers must now walk over a “mat with special disinfectant” which cleanses the shoe soles of anyone entering the airport.  It is located at the entrance of terminals at many airports all over the world. You are then allowed to enter the terminal following security control by X-Ray devices with increased level of accuracy. The aim here is to enable the security guards to have less contact with the passengers. Except in extraordinary cases, the pat-down search that was applied by security staff to passengers apparently has ended for the most part, with the pandemic. Utmost importance is placed on the implementation of the social distancing rule in security checkpoint lines. When passing through the x-ray devices, the boxes that we put our personal items in are now disinfected prior to the utilization of the next customer, either manually by the staff or automatically by ultraviolet systems.

Terminals becoming more technologized

During the pandemic, the requirement to drop-off our luggage and take our boarding pass from the counters will be minimized as much as possible. Many airports have implemented automated processes to prevent physical contact between staff and passengers. The printing of a hardcopy boarding pass has been eliminated at many airports or reduced to the maximum extent. A brand-new process (a paperless process) has been initiated, where the passengers will scan their boarding pass with their smart phones or devices and drop-off their luggage mostly by themselves to automatic drop-off points. A transparent/plexiglass shield and separator has been placed between passengers and staff for special cases where transactions need to be conducted directly with the counter staff. Personal protective gears such as masks, gloves, plexiglass transparent face shields, hair restraints and aprons are being used by all staff including the security guards that are in direct contact with passengers. It is possible to announce the start of a new process where all screens touched by passengers are sterilized at airports via workers wiping it where transactions are conducted through automatic devices.

Passengers are now expected to arrive at the airport even earlier as the new safety and security processes take longer to get through than before the pandemic. For the upcoming days where air traffic is expected to become denser, experts advise passengers to arrive at the airport 2 hours earlier than their domestic flights and 4 hours prior to their international flights.

Warning signs and notices are placed at airports to expand passenger awareness of the need to constantly adhere to social distancing rules and floors are marked to show passengers where they should be standing while they wait in lines. Loudspeaker announcements are made at regular intervals to remind passengers of these points. A portion of the seats in airports and passenger waiting areas have been marked to warn passengers not to sit on them. Passengers ignoring such marks or rules at certain airports are warned by the related staff, as these areas are being constantly monitored by cameras. Body temperatures of passengers are screened by thermal cameras located at multiple points of the terminal until the passengers reach their airplanes to prevent passengers with a high fever from boarding the airplane. The thermal camera implementation at the Istanbul Airport is slightly different.  With advances in new high-tech systems, body temperatures are measured by thermal cameras installed over a specialized protective helmet. The body temperatures of passengers are being measured with these thermal cameras installed over the helmets of staff that are stationed at the entrance of the terminal.

Sterilization tunnels are planned to be launched at certain developed airports, to sterilize the clothes of passengers as they pass through the tunnel. Baggage also goes through a similar sterilization tunnel and then is embarked on the plane. At these types of airports, tags are being used to show that the baggage has been sterilized.

New arrangements based on social distancing have been launched in airport food and beverage areas as well.  Products are being sold in disposable packages and menus have been digitalized. The digital devices are disinfected following every order.

One of the biggest concerns of passengers regarding air travel now is the quality of the air in the aircraft and whether the ventilation and air condition systems prevent the spread of the virus. At many airports, Istanbul Airport in particular, one hundred percent fresh air is being pumped into the terminal, since day one.  Moreover, the maintenance process of air-conditioners inside the terminals has been changed. The fresh air-cycle has been increased to maximum levels, supporting an improved environment with plants and improved hygiene standards. 

New implementations for boarding and de-boarding 

With the pandemic, passport checks, the boarding process and many other practices have become increasingly technological with the assistance of biometrical systems. The number of passenger transactions that can be completed with the use of facial and iris recognition systems increases each day.

Passengers are constantly being reminded of the social distancing rules and long queues at the gates are being prevented. New rules have been launched to minimize contact that passengers may have with each other during the boarding. A vast number of airlines have started to boarding from the back seats first so that the chances for passenger contact are minimized.  De-boarding follows suit and is starts from the front seats towards the back seats to minimize physical contact of passengers.

During the boarding and de-boarding, passenger contact with the cabin crew is being minimized as well. Flight attendants and pilots have to wear masks and gloves in flight just like the passengers. We come across certain practices where the flight attendants of some airlines wear face shields and protective gear. Mobility inside the airplane is minimized. The utilization of the lavatory may be restricted if required. The lavatories are sterilized in pursuit of each usage.  In-depth cleaning and sterilization of airplanes is conducted more frequently now than the period before the pandemic. 

One of the most critical new practices to be conducted is the completion of passenger information forms at international flights. These forms are filled out by all passengers and submitted to the pursers onboard.  These forms are handed over to the health officers after the flight so that effective inspection of passengers can be conducted.

No more carry-ons and limited catering services   

Many airlines announced that they would be completely discontinuing catering services particularly during short flights and the catering services on long-haul flights have been simplified to enable quick consumption. All snacks offered are wrapped and being offered in closed packages. Turkish Airlines also took a similar step and the company has only been offering water during all domestic flights and international flights that are shorter than 2 hours. Moreover, Turkish Airlines ended their “Flying Chef” services as well. The company launched the practice to assign one of the flight attendants as the ‘hygiene expert’ on each flight. Many airline companies, including Turkish Airlines, are distributing hygiene sets to all passengers prior to the flight and numerous airline companies have included masks and disinfectant liquids in the amenity kits distributed during long flights.

Carry-on baggage allowance is facing significant restrictions compared to the period before the outbreak of the pandemic. For instance, male passengers are allowed to carry laptop cases and briefcases, female passengers are allowed to bring small-sized personal handbags and passengers with children will be able to take bags containing the basic requirements of the child. As part of this new implementation launched for preventing the spread of the virus and for minimizing the contact, all things except for the aforementioned items are treated as hold baggage. 

Reserving the seats in the last 3 rows at the far end of the cabin for passengers that COVID-19-like symptoms has been a topic on the agenda for a long time. The executives of Pegasus Airlines announced that they have adopted measures for such cases by not selling the seats in the back rows. Another point that had been under discussion for quite a long while was the practice of leaving the middle seats empty. However, claiming that it would not effectively contribute to the social distancing rule and would increase costs, this suggestion was rejected. If the number of passengers is few, the seats are distributed in consideration of social distancing, but it is understood that as seat occupancy rates increase, all passengers will have to sit next to each other and adhere to guidelines regarding individual safety measures to protect themselves against infection.

Upon arrival at your destination, you will see that many airports worldwide have adopted the use of smart technology as well. The body temperatures of passengers are being measured by thermal cameras, and some airports are even administering on-site rapid COVID-19 tests to passengers. There are discussions on the identification of the persons to be tested, how the testing cost would be collected and what the passengers would do, and where they would physically wait for the test results to come in. In line with the decree adopted by Turkey’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, passengers with symptoms, after a basic examination and measurement of body temperature, will be subject to COVID-19 tests at all airports in Turkey. Passengers with positive test results will not be deported, instead they will be treated. There is an expectation that in the future, passengers may be forced to carry a COVID-19 card similar to vaccination cards. These cards will be controlled if deemed necessary and passengers will be asked at the arrival airport to declare the addresses they will be going to, such as the location of their accommodations.  A process will be enabled for the rapid quarantine of people who have been in contact with an infected passenger. Furthermore, there are also plans on the table being discussed for passengers to provide proof of compulsory travel insurance prior to the flight.

We will be able to unite with our loved ones and those waiting to welcome us, outside the terminal building at the airport 

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