SINGAPORE: Trust. Over the decades, airlines have earned the confidence of travelers to get them safely to their destination. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the issue of trust now extends to personal health.
Surveys tell us that people are eager to start exploring the world again, reconnect with friends and family, and visit business partners to seal the next big deal. But you will only do this if you feel safe traveling.
Over the past few weeks, all aviation stakeholders – airlines, airports, manufacturers, governments, and medical experts – have worked together to develop a safe travel plan, even though the challenges of COVID-19 remain.
There is no miracle solution. Until a vaccine is found, nothing is certain. But layers of measures – each reducing risk at each stage of the journey – can have the cumulative effect of greatly reducing risk.
ADVERSE PEOPLE SHOULD NOT TRAVEL
Measures to protect your safety start at the airport. The first thing we want to do is make sure that sick people don’t steal.
We will continue to inform you that it is everyone’s personal responsibility to stay home in the event of a fever. And passengers will see their temperature at the airport as an additional measure.
To keep the numbers manageable, only passengers (and their caregivers if necessary) will be allowed at the airport.
Masks will become a feature of the trip. The evidence indicates that COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who show no signs of the disease. Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of the virus by people who don’t know they are sick.
You will see airline staff wearing them. And you will also be asked – from the moment you arrive at the airport to your destination.
REDUCING CONTACT WILL BE THE KEY
The next layer is speed and reduced contact. This means that passengers should arrive at the airport ready to fly using online check-in and a bag label printed at home where possible. Otherwise, we should see automated processes with self-service check-in and boarding kiosks.
That’s not all. Airline staff will most likely have plexiglass barriers.
There will be more in-depth cleaning everywhere, but especially for very sensitive areas such as kiosks and security trays. And we are working on more efficient queuing and other measures to maintain safe distances.
Our surveys show that the biggest concern is the person sitting next to you. It is perfectly understandable.
In fact, many expect the “middle seat” to remain empty so that we can extend social distance onboard. This will not generate the distance suggested by health officials for the physical distance – which is usually 1 or 2 meters.
We, therefore, follow the advice for situations where physical distance is not possible, i.e. wearing a mask. And on top of that, we add other layers of protection.
We are redesigning boarding and disembarking so that people can get on and off the plane more efficiently. We simplify the service to minimize interaction with the crew. And we will make sure that people don’t congregate around the toilet.
OBSTACLES TO THE SPREAD OF VIRUSES IN AIRCRAFT
People also need to be aware of some other barriers to the spread of the virus. Everyone usually faces forward and doesn’t move much. And the backrest is a barrier for respiratory droplets that jump from the rows.
There are very important design features, including the airflow on the plane. It flows from the ceiling to the floor, so there are not much air moves back and forth, which can help reduce the spread.
You may not realize that air is exchanged 20 to 30 times an hour with fresh air from outside the aircraft. This is about 10 times more frequently than most modern office buildings.
For recycled air, it goes through high-efficiency air filters, the same as those used in hospital operating rooms.
I wish I could say with absolute certainty that there is no risk of catching COVID-19 in the cabin. There is a risk in every interaction we have with other people – when shopping, working, dining, or flying. What I can say, however, is that we have not seen this risk manifest in many cases of transmission on board.
The main example is a flight from the UK to Vietnam in early March which saw a symptomatic passenger potentially transmitting the virus to several others.
But there are also studies published on two recent flights between Asia and North America with known symptomatic passengers where no transmission was detected despite an extensive contact search.
The risk of transmission on board, therefore, seems low. And the measures we have put in place will further reduce it.
FLYING A PERSONAL DECISION
Confidence is personal. You will need to decide whether the reason for your next plane trip justifies what you perceive as a risk.
For me, the answer is yes. As the industry reboots, I will be visiting stakeholders in many parts of the world.
As summer approaches, I plan to travel with the family. Both will involve airplanes.
I know the benefits of travel will be significant. And I trust the measures we have put in place to ensure my safety, that of my colleagues and my family.
I hope you will reach the same conclusion when the countries finally lift the restrictions on air travel.