With social distancing looking to be the new norm going forward, many airports are looking to introduce mandatory face masks and sanitation requirements and airlines are announcing new measures that pair traveller safety alongside realistic cost containment approaches.
In Europe, Finavia (formerly the Finnish Civil Aviation Administration), the public limited company responsible for maintaining and developing Finland's airport network, has announced that the use of mouth-nose protectors is required of all airport employees who work in the customer interface. In addition, the organisation strongly urges that passengers to use a mask as they move about the airport.
“Now that Finland is gradually easing the coronavirus-related restrictions, Finavia turns its gaze to the future as well. We are preparing ourselves for the return of air traffic carefully and gradually. We have already implemented various coronavirus-related measures at our airports and, if necessary, we are ready to adapt our instructions quickly. Right now, we are expanding the use of masks to protect passengers and employees,” said Helsinki Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff from Finavia.
French carrier Air France has announced that in addition to making face masks mandatory for passengers and crew, installing physical distancing guidelines in the airport, as well as plexiglass protection, daily aircraft cleaning and adapting inflight service, it will begin carrying out temperature checks on its passengers. As of 11 May, it will screen the temperatures of all departing passengers on Air France-operated flights. The checks will be carried out by contactless infrared thermometers. Any passenger with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius may be denied boarding – although they will be permitted to amend their travel arrangements to a later date at no extra charge.
UK airports, including London Heathrow, have announced that they plan to implement similar measures. And London Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye recently informed the House of Commons Transport Committee that the airport will trial a number of processes, including UV sanitisation, facial recognition thermal screening technology and contact-free screening equipment to reduce person-to-person contact. This, he said, “could form the basis of a Common International Standard for health screening at all global airports.”
As far as travel destinations are concerned, the global aviation industry seems unlikely to be announcing very much international travel at this time.
American Airlines, for example, plans to place all of its A330-200 aircraft in long-term storage and close its only two A330 bases in Charlotte (CLT) and Philadelphia (PHL), retraining its A330-certified pilots to operate other aircraft. This move comes following the airline’s retiring of its A330-300s, Boeing 757s and 767s, and Embraer E190s (a total of 80 planes).
Senior Vice-President of American Flight Operations Kimball Stone explained that this latest decision was based on the current depressed forecast for international demand and no opportunities to profitably use the fleet domestically.
Because domestic travel is due to resume before international travel, airlines will be needing more narrow-body fleets rather than the wide-body jets suited to flying long-haul routes over oceans. As such, airlines around the world are looking at retiring their Airbus A380s for example, which Airbus plans to cease producing next year.
“We all expect the recovery will be slow and demand for air travel will be suppressed for quite some time”, said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, commenting on the company’s decision.