If you plan to travel by air in the foreseeable future, make sure to train your patience and brace yourselves for delays. The coronavirus is likely to change air travel more than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From now on, we will be more afraid of getting infected during a few hours long flight than of our plane being hijacked.
It was a shock that exceeded all expectations. After flights were reduced due to the spread of coronavirus, traffic at Prague Airport fell by 99.6 percent in April. During the whole month, only a little over 5,000 people checked in.
In recent weeks, however, air traffic has begun to resume again, and it is already clear that flying won't be as we have known it for years. Hygienic measures are being tightened across airlines worldwide, on-board services are being reduced and staff behavior is changing. The intensity of the measures varies and most airlines are fine-tuning them at this point. However, some things are already certain.
So what should we prepare for? The analytical company Simpliflying has put together a report that evaluates current and future measures, and we seem to have to get ready for a number of annoying procedures and restrictions when traveling.
Within a few months, special disinfection tunnels and heat scanners could appear at larger airports, which wouldn't allow anyone with a higher temperature to pass. People who cough, sneeze, or have other symptoms of a viral illness will also be stopped from going farther. Most of the luggage, except the smallest personal pieces, will probably have to be checked in, and it'll be properly disinfected. There will be only contactless vending machines at the airports and refreshments on board will be ordered exclusively through a special application. Covering one's face will become a habit, and airlines will have to invest in very efficient filters through which the air-conditioned air will be circulated.
It is also possible that many airlines, especially the wealthier ones, will introduce special covers for individual seats, or significantly reduce the number of people on board (which will logically lead to more expensive plane tickets). We also need to prepare for the fact that movement on the plane will be restricted - for example, in order to go to the toilet, passengers will have to raise their hand and wait for the permission of a staff member, so as to avoid the forming of queues. Protective equipment used by stewards should also prevent the spread of the disease. Quatar Airways, for example, is already introducing special full-body protective suits.
Low-cost airlines, on the other hand, will introduce fewer measures, as shown recently by RyanAir. Videos of crowded planes have begun to appear online, passengers aren't keeping safe distance, and the head of the company refuses to leave the middle seats unoccupied. It seems people will have to decide whether to pay extra for a flight with a more expensive airline that has stricter hygiene measures, or to save for a ticket and risk coronavirus infection.
At present, CSA (the Smartwings group), which Czechs use most often, has reached a middle ground between these two extremes. The airline began to thoroughly disinfect the entire aircraft after each flight. Except for small children, all passengers have to wear a face mask or respirator on board and can only take it off while eating or drinking. The offer of refreshments itself is limited, as well as other sales on board. Passengers will also no longer find magazines and other promotional leaflets in the compartments. People also have to keep the distance of 2 meters on entry and exit.
No matter what level of measures the airlines ultimately decide on, or what kind of special EU legislation is approved, one thing is already certain: air travel will take longer. Frequent disinfecting, larger personal space zones and more thorough inspections will cause delays. We're going to have to start heading to the airport earlier and aircraft delays will become very common.