United Kingdom

The future of flight: Blueprint to make flying safe for the Covid era

Air passengers face the biggest changes to travel since the 9/11 terror attacks - with everyone on board planes having to wear face masks, told not to queue up for toilets and facing limited duty-free sales in airports.

Masks, health checks and a limit to on-board movements made up part of the industry guidelines, which also said planes must be regularly disinfected and on-board food should be pre-packaged.

The blueprint, by the International Civil Aviation Organization and World Health Organization, suggests people carry 'health certificates' in countries where they are issued and go for pre and post-flight temperature checks.

Online check-in and other non-contact forms of technology, such as e-tickets, must be used in terminals as much as possible to reduce human contact, while travellers should take just one piece of small hand luggage.

Airlines should ban newspapers and magazines on-board, while duty-free sales in airports should be limited and masks and face coverings for passengers and crews should be mandatory inside aircraft and terminals.

Physical distancing of at least 3ft (1m) should be respected - and passengers on board planes should move as little as possible and not line up outside toilets. Travellers will also be assigned a specific on-board toilet.

The plans, intended as a 'framework' for keeping passengers and workers safe, also include advice for flight attendants to be given personal protective equipment, including visors, gloves and medical masks.

But the guidance by the ICAO, which is based in Canada, stops short of advising every other seat to be left vacant to maintain physical distancing - something the airline industry has warned would threaten profitability. 

Here, MailOnline looks at the new guidance and what it means for passengers and the airline industry:

CHECK-IN 

Terminal access may be restricted to workers, travellers and accompanying people for passengers with disabilities, reduced mobility or unaccompanied children - as long as it does not create crowds and queues.

Passengers are being urged to complete as much of the check-in process as possible before arriving at the airport, by using online check-in, mobile boarding passes, off airport baggage tagging and other initiatives.

Authorities are particular concerned about self-service options such as boarding pass and baggage tag kiosks and baggage drop because of the high levels of physical contact that increases the chances of contamination.

Airports are therefore being encouraged to keep these areas constantly disinfected. They will also provide signs, floor markings and announcements via public address systems to encourage physical distancing.

At the traditional check-in counters, there will be retractable stanchions and floor signage in the queuing area to encourage social distancing and possibly transparent barriers in front of staff at counters.

Contactless processes such as facial recognition are also encouraged at self-service bag drops, various queue access, boarding gates and retail and duty-free outlets, which will reduce the need for contact between people.

Social distancing will be imposed, with the target of reaching at least 3ft (1m) between people, with passengers told to wear face masks or coverings as long as this does not create shortages for healthcare workers.

Employees will be given personal protective equipment based on their role, and this could include gloves, medical masks, goggles, a face shield, gowns or aprons. There will also be a rota keeping them in steady teams and shifts. 

Travelers wait to check in at Rome's Fiumicino Airport today as airports and borders reopen for tourists across Italy

GOING THROUGH SECURITY

If health screening is required by regulations within the terminal, non-contact thermometers will be used in a designated area and procedures will be in place to respond to any passengers who show signs of illness.

Hand sanitizers and disinfection products will be available for passengers and staff before they reach screening access points. When there they should maintain social distancing and wear appropriate PPE.

Airports are considering rearranging security checkpoint access and layouts to reduce queues and crowding, with markings placed on the ground to indicate the proper distancing recommended by the country's authorities.

Passengers should present boarding passes and other travel documents to security personnel while avoiding physical contact and in a way that minimises face-to-face interaction.

Travellers can use automatic boarding pass scanners at access points and mobile boarding pass scanners will be operated by security staff. Screening staff should wear gloves and change these after each manual search.

There is also provision for larger quantities of health-related liquids, aerosols and gels than prescribed by applicable regulations, such as hand disinfectants, if the appropriate authority for aviation security permits.

Passengers in face masks wait at the check-in desk at Rome's Fiumicino Airport today for a flight to Dusseldorf in Germany

DEPARTURE LOUNGE AND BOARDING

Airports are considering floor markings and physical installations to impose social distancing in departures areas and VIP lounges while giving passengers access to retail, duty-free concessions and food and drink outlets.

Certain areas may need to close or their layout changed, such as self-service buffet food, café seating, smoking areas and children's play areas – while hand sanitiser stations will be available throughout the lounges.

Airports should also install touch-free equipment in toilet facilities, such as an automatic toilet flushing system, taps and soap or hand sanitiser dispensers and automated hand towel dispensers.

To ensure socially distancing during the boarding process, airports may need to redesign gate areas and bring in an increased use of automation such as self-scanning and biometrics – especially as passenger numbers rise.

Passengers will be limited in what carry-on baggage they can take that would require use of the overhead bins, while sitting areas will only be allowed to open at limited capacity to accommodate the need for social distancing.

Airlines are also being asked to considering changing their boarding process to improve social distancing and reduce the chances of passengers passing near each other while queuing to get onto the plane. 

Passengers sit in socially-distanced seats today in the departures terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand

ON BOARD 

Airlines have been urged to assign seats for adequate distancing between passengers – and allow for separated seating arrangements when occupancy allows it.

However the guidance has not advised every other seat to be left vacant to maintain physical distancing - something the airline industry has warned would threaten profitability.

Passengers will be encouraged to travel as lightly as possible with check-in of all luggage except small hand luggage that fits under the seat. They will also be asked to stay in their assigned seat as much as possible.

On-board newspapers and magazines will be removed, while the size and quantity of duty-free sales may also be temporarily limited. Food and drink likely to be only provided in sealed and pre-packaged containers.

One toilet should be designated for crew use only, provided sufficient others remain available for passenger use without resulting in congregation by passengers waiting to use one.

Passengers will also be required to use a designated toilet based on their seat assignment to limit passenger movement in flight, which reduces exposure to other passengers.

Crew will be banned from sharing safety equipment used for demonstrations, while airlines are also looking at installing plastic curtains or panels during the boarding process, which are then removed once this is completed.

Passengers on board a plane in Thailand following a domestic Thai Smile Airways flight at Chiang Mai Airport today

SECURITY AFTER LANDING 

Airports have been warned border control and customs processes for arrivals may need to be revised to increase social distancing, with a focus on automatic equipment, digital passenger identification and thermal screening.

Some governments are also looking at the idea of a health declaration to be provided by arriving passengers before departure or on arrival as an initial screening measure, which can then be vetted by officials.

Governments are also being urged to consider electronic options for declarations to minimise human-to-human contact, and green or red lanes customs self-declarations are recommended.

Smart thermal cameras could be installed to scan the temperature of multiple passengers rapidly. This could be conducted prior to the customs hall, but individual health assessments should be avoided to reduce queuing.

For those transferring flights, authorities could develop 'one-stop' health screening where passengers and property are not rescreened at transfer locations based on mutual recognition of security measures.

Passengers arrive at Cagliari-Elmas Airport in Italy today from different destinations after the reopening of regional borders

BAGGAGE CLAIM

Airports will also be urged to provide a speedy baggage claim process to ensure crowds to do not build up in the area, and encouraged to maximise use of the available arrival carousels to limit the gathering of passengers.

Governments should ensure that the customs clearance process is as speedy as possible, and align cleaning schedule based on flight schedules to ensure a more frequent and in-depth disinfection of the areas.

Airports should also allow for self-service kiosk or online options for passengers needing to report lost or damaged luggage, while using retractable stanchions and floor markings to encourage social distancing.

Airline agents at lost luggage counters will be provided with a protective transparent separator when possible, while airports will encourage the use of baggage delivery services so bags can be sent straight to a hotel or home.

Passengers wearing protective face masks stand with their luggage at Rome Fiumicino Airport in Italy this morning

TERMINAL CLEANING

Airports have been urged to ensure there is an 'enhanced cleaning and disinfection' operation in place for terminal buildings with its frequency increased as passenger numbers build up when restrictions are eased.

Areas that will be regularly cleaned will be those that are often touched and most likely to be contaminated, such as airport information desks and areas for passengers with reduced mobility.

Other areas with enhanced cleaning will include check-in areas, immigration and customs desks, security screening areas, escalators and lifts, handrails and toilets and baby changing areas.

Luggage trolleys and collection points will be cleaned with dispensable wet wipes or disinfectants, while disposal bins will be made available. Seating areas and parking shuttle buses will also be regularly cleaned.

Airports will increase the use of air conditioning and filtration systems to keep the air in terminal buildings clean, reduce re-circulation and increase the fresh-air ratio, while limiting horizontal airflows. 

A cleaning worker pushes a cart across a terminal at Rome's Fiumicino Airport today as airports in Italy reopen for tourists

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