As the world keenly awaits a credible solution like a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19, doctor and political leaders around the world are working hard to revive the economy, with least effect from the virus. We have to live with this virus, or this is the new normal has been common saying these days.
But as we look at the restarting the economy, things will change, more particularly towards maintaining hygiene to reduce the chances of getting infected. Things like social distancing, hand sanitizers, face masks are becoming part of our life.
The biggest problem that we are going to face is while travelling, and especially travelling via air. The most hard-hit industry, civil aviation is also said to be the biggest transmitter of the virus as people fly from all across the world and hence it is of utmost importance for the aviation industry to reform the way we travel and focus on the safety of passengers.
Just a few days ago, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted a photo of the passengers travelling on the repatriation flight from Singapore to Delhi. In his tweet, the minister quoted the lyrics of the popular song ‘The Times are a Changing’ by Bob Dylan
Comprehensive Health Checkup
Not just airports, but health checkup has become mandatory for any person who wants to enter a large complex. However, airports are a special case as a lot of people fly in from different areas, increasing the probability of contamination. While temperature checks using a thermal gun will be done at the entry, one has to fill the form before travelling to reveal the health history. Also, mandatory Aarogya Setu app will help track the health history too.
Airports are usually full of hustle-bustle, especially the ones in India, like the Delhi and Mumbai airports. However, a lot of people will refrain from travelling until the early next year, especially for leisure activities. This will result in deserted airports, mostly filled with people travelling for work or emergency. Also, airports will close all common areas like a smoking room, prayer room and dining area.
Personal Protective Equipment
The only and most efficient way to stop the spread of coronavirus is by wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). While the face mask is the bare minimum PPE one can wear, it’s advisable to use gloves and face shields. This, however, is limited to only passengers. Cabin crew and pilots will be wearing full-body PPE including bodysuit apart from security staff from CISF.
Apart from PPE, regular sanitization is the other option to keep the covid-19 at bay. While airport staff will keep the airports clean including the seating area, planes will also be fully sanitized after each flight. The packed food items served on the plane will be properly cleaned too. However, the biggest newsmaker is the UV bag cleaner installed at the Delhi airport. UV scanners will be installed and all bags have to pass through them.
Technology and security
Lastly, technology will be enhanced manifolds to support the cleanliness drive and security measures. BACS, the nodal security body has stopped the stamping of boarding passes and additional CCTV cameras will be installed to keep a check on passengers. Similarly, mandatory web check-in will be required before boarding the flight. Movable UV towers will be installed near seating areas.
Entering the airport
The first major change that travellers will notice in airports is that non-fliers will likely not be allowed inside. “We’re likely to see a restriction to passengers only,” says Regine Weston, the Americas
airport planning leader for engineering firm Arup, which has worked on hubs like Beijing, London Heathrow, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. “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.
Once in the airport, travellers will see touchless options for checking in, a service that was previously available in a handful of terminals, like the Delta terminal in Atlanta, which operates an all-biometric check-in system. But technology is sure to become more widespread. “You can go to a kiosk to check-in using your face as [identification], and you can get your bag tag,” Weston says. “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,” she says. After it’s dropped off by the passenger, luggage may also be put through a fogging tunnel to be disinfected, according to SimpliFlying.
Another long-term option is to make parking garages into the check-in area and screening centres, according to airport design firm Gensler. “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” writes Ty Osbaugh, a principal aviation architect at Gensler.
The next problem to solve? 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 essentially an appointment to go through security screening,” Weston says, noting 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. “I can see that and even more sophisticated versions becoming more widespread so that the actual area that’s dedicated to security screening is able to exist without crowding.”
Additional health screening
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,” Weston says. But although they’re effective, they’re not visible to the public. “So I don’t think it will work to restore passenger confidence,” Weston says. Instead, she thinks passengers are more likely to 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 coronavirus are possible. SimpliFlying’s report goes as far as 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 travellers or employees. But U.S. airlines are pushing for there to be uniform federal regulations. “We’ll need to work with the federal government in terms of screening customers to make sure, for example, that you don’t have someone getting on the aeroplane that has a fever,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a recent CNBC interview. “I think that that’s going to be very important.”
But a point of contention is who will be responsible for checking travellers’ for high temperatures and other COVID-19 symptoms. The TSA is still considering whether it will have its officers take temperatures as part of the security screening process. But some, like SimpliFlying, predicts that a new federal health agency will be formed in order to coordinate such health screenings inside airports.
Major changes at gates
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.
Travellers 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 travellers, according to Weston. “Things as simple as [having] a lot of hands 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 Weston says, 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 Weston predicts it will 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,” she says. “I think at least in the short term, privacy concerns are going to be considered less important than health concerns.”