A new age of air travel is taking shape.
Airports and airlines are rolling out temperature checks for crew and, increasingly, passengers, as well as thermal scans to spot people with elevated body temperatures. Face masks are now de rigueur for travelers across the U.S. Passengers on Europe’s biggest budget carrier must raise their hands to use the toilet.
Forget about the perks of priority boarding at Air France. The carrier is one of several boarding passengers seated at the back of the aircraft first, to limit traffic jams in the aisle. Many airlines are removing in-flight magazines, scrapping meal services on shorter routes, and parking the duty-free cart.
Getting off the plane at the end of the flight could take even longer than usual as airlines try to control the typical crush, with some saying flight attendants will cue small groups when it’s their turn to stand up.
As lockdowns loosen, airlines are plotting a path out of hibernation, reformulating routes and services, and balancing safety protocols with the challenge of convincing passengers to board the enclosed space of an aircraft in the midst of a pandemic.
The Trump Administration is preparing to begin temperature checks conducted by the Transportation Security Administration at some airports, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The TSA said no decision has been made.
Some of the biggest changes airlines envision are the result of what executives expect will be months, maybe years, of lower demand: They see fewer direct flights, for instance, which means more dreaded stopovers.
Some airlines are considering requiring passengers to sign health certifications, or to eventually carry “immunity passports”—documentation that a passenger has had, and recovered from, the virus.
Planes are flying again on a handful of international routes, creating a possible path to recovery for a battered industry. But with COVID-19 still spreading, aspiring passengers will have to navigate a patchy network that might include virus tests and weeks-long quarantine.
This month, China and South Korea opened a tightly controlled travel corridor between Seoul and 10 Chinese regions, including Shanghai. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lifted travel restrictions between the three Baltic states on May 15. Australia and New Zealand are also working to resume flights between the two countries.
The unique accords have emerged as templates for airlines that have been pushed to the brink by the industry’s worst-ever crisis and for countries desperate to salvage some tourism as the world enters a deep recession. But they also highlight the biggest challenge to re-establishing international travel: There’s little agreement on what kind of protections could limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 across borders.