Travel Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Posted on: 10 May 2020
  • By: laila Akel

Image by: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The outbreak of Coronavirus and its rapid spread around the world have had an unprecedented impact on the commercial aviation industry. Though some airlines are still flying, including rescue flights to repatriate individuals to their home countries, many airlines are being grounded by the Covid-19 outbreak for the time being. Furthermore, going forward, many experts across the health-care and aviation industries believe that air travel will not be the same after the advent of the Covid-19 outbreak.  

The spread of Covid-19 has resulted in an unprecedented decline in air traffic. The average number of commercial flights per day fell from more than 100,000 in January and February this year to around 78,500 in March and 29,400 in April due to the spread of Covid-19 around the world as well as the full or partial suspension of air travel by governments in bid to contain the virus, according to data released by Flightradar24. As a result of the decline in air traffic across the world, according to the International Air Transport Association, passenger revenue for airlines is estimated to plunge by $314 billion by the end of the year 2020.

Such a decline in air traffic has also led airlines to ground a large proportion of their fleet, resulting in many running into financial difficulties.

Some governments have stepped in to offer a lifeline for those struggling. They include: The U.S. Treasury Department reached an agreement with airlines including American, Delta and United for 25 billion dollars in government grants. The French and Dutch governments announced they would provide up to 11 billion euros in financial aid to Air France-KLM. As well as Singapore’s government working with the private sector to provide up to 19 billion Singapore dollars to Singapore Airlines.

The Coronavirus outbreak has triggered unprecedented mass layoffs in the commercial aviation industry as well. On April 18th, it was reported that British Airways is set to cut up to 12,000 jobs from its 42,000 - strong workforce. In addition, in a memo that went out to about 11,500 workers on May 5th, Kate Gebo, United Airlines' (UAL) head of human resources, said the company's management and administrative team could be reduced by 30% in October of this year.

While a new report from an analyst at Stifel, an investment banking company, predicts that air travel demand will not return to pre-outbreak levels until at least the end of  year 2021, it will rebound, as it has in the past, after the financial crisis of 2008 and 9/11, two other events that had a huge negative impact on air travel.

However, air travel may look different going forward. And wearing masks and gloves and practicing social distancing are only the beginning. In a new report, "The Rise of Sanitized Travel," SimpliFlying anticipates dozens of ways air travel might change in the coming months and years. Change may include the following:

  1. Online check-in: Besides choosing their seat or paying for checked bags, passengers might also need to upload an “immunity passport” - a document to confirm the presence of Covid-19 antibodies - before they fly.

  2. Airport curbside: Passengers could be required to arrive at least four hours ahead of their flight, and pass through a disinfection tunnel or thermal scanner to check their temperature before being allowed to enter the airport.

  3. Check-in and bag drop: New touchless kiosks would allow passengers to check in by scanning a barcode, or using gestures or voice commands. Airport agents would be behind plexiglass shields, and bags would be disinfected and then "sanitagged” meaning bags will be sanitized before tagging.

  4. Health check: Passengers would undergo a health screening, and potentially even have their blood tested. In April, Emirates became the first airline to conduct rapid on-site Covid-19 testing of passengers before boarding.

  5. Security: Each carry-on bag and security bin would be disinfected when entering the X-ray machine, using fogging or UV-ray techniques, then “sanitagged."

  6. Boarding: Passengers would need to be present an hour before departure, maintain social distancing in the gate area and board only when they receive individual notifications on their smartphones to prevent crowding in the jet bridge.

  7. On the plane: The pre-flight safety video might include sanitation procedures, as passengers wipe down their seats and tray tables. In-flight magazines will be removed, seatback pockets emptied, and passengers will likely use their own devices to watch videos. An in-flight janitor might keep lavatories and other high-touch areas disinfected after passenger use.