In this second part of our series looking at the Future of Travel we will be looking at your flying experience.
Main picture quiet cabin during flight credit Doug Letterman on flickr
Even before the pandemic many found the flying experience to be the least enjoyable part of their trip. Airport queues and security, delays, long flights, cramped seats followed by more airport queues can make even a short-haul flight seem like a chore.
The after effects of the pandemic on flying are likely to last for a number of years, add into that pressures on sustainability and environment concerns means a number of changes for the industry.
More transactions in the airport are going to be self-service.
Generally safer than face-to-face transactions, they are always going to take time as many people will be unfamiliar with the system.
However a return to manual check-in and processes would be a disaster for airports who would find additional checks impractical and time-consuming. They also have a higher risk of fraud that secure digital systems.
There will be more restrictions in place. Will you be able to enter the airport without proof of vaccine or a negative test? If so, you probably will need to provide proof at some point prior to boarding the plane.
We would love to hear your questions on the Future of Travel. We will answer as many as we can in the final part of the series. Contact us or add a comment below.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned of potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials (testing and vaccine certificates) and other COVID-19 measures.
IATA have said that there is a risk of average airport processing time, check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim, increasing from around 1.5 hours pre-pandemic to 8 hours if traffic levels returned to levels prior to the pandemic! This figure was based on times increasing to 3 hours with 30% traffic volume and no improvements being put into place.
“Without an automated solution for COVID-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon. Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were pre-crisis during peak time—reaching an unacceptable three hours. And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes.
Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities.
We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast.”Willie Walsh, Director General IATA
Once you arrive at your destination you are probably going to have to go through the whole process again. You may even have to take another test and have to wait for a negative result before onward travel.
If Governments require COVID-19 health credentials for travel, integrating them into already automated processes is the solution for a smooth restart. This would need globally recognised, standardised, and interoperable digital certificates for COVID-19 testing and vaccine certificates.
Digitalised certificates have several advantages:
- Avoiding fraudulent documentation
- Enabling advance “ready-to-fly” checks by governments
- Reducing queuing, crowding and waiting time in airports through integration with self-service check-in (via the internet, kiosks or mobile phone apps)
- Increasing security through integration with digital identity management being used by border control authorities
- Reducing the risk of virus transmission via the person-to-person exchange of paper documents
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is installing 180 self-service machines to help reduce contact between passengers and staff to help reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 and improve confidence of travellers.
The system will not just be used for check-in, as is common at other airports around the world, but will also include self-service luggage loaders which will even be able to take payment for overweight baggage.
There will also be unmanned biometric security stations for checking of boarding passes.
More Efficient Planes
A positive of the pandemic is the hastening of airlines disposing of older and less fuel efficient planes.
The focus in the future for airlines will be to reduce costs as much as possible and ensure that they are maximising their revenue.
It is no surprise that many older planes are far less fuel efficient than newer models. However many people may not realise that some newer planes, especially the Airbus A380 are also fuel guzzlers.
Airlines have had to take a hard look at their fleet and make cuts to expensive planes that they were struggling to make money with even before the pandemic.
You will see far fewer of the biggest jets in the future, British Airways has retired all of its Boeing 747’s from service, all 31 of them. A number of airlines have either reduced the size of their 747 and A380 fleets or removed them all together.
The focus in the future will be on highly efficient, smaller planes, even for the long-haul flights. Widebody planes are likely to become rarer and rarer as more long-range, single-aisle, narrow bodied aircraft become available.
Likely to be one of the most controversial and debated areas of flying will be the wearing of masks onboard.
Generally airlines must comply with all regulations of origin and destination authorities plus those of the airlines country of registration.
For many airlines the decision to enforce wearing of face coverings on board has also been driven by customer demand. The majority of customers around the world currently expect the wearing of masks as a safety requirement.
Future requirements for the wearing of masks, apart from when eating or drinking, look to be in place at least in the short-term. Airlines will not be able to relax restrictions until legal controls are lifted and some may choose to continue them to ease passengers safety concerns.
Arguments on Board
There have however been a number of reports around the world of passengers refusing to wear a face covering on board. As vaccination rates increase it is highly probable that the numbers of people refusing to wear masks increases.
Recently a passenger on a Ryanair flight was filmed kicking a man and pulling a woman’s hair during a face coverings row.
The woman was on a flight from the Spanish island of Ibiza to Milan in Italy and was wearing her mask around her chin rather than over her mouth and nose as required.
An argument ensued between passengers and the offending woman pulled a fellow passengers hair and spat at her before later trying to kick another passenger.
Cabin crew attempted to diffuse the situation but the woman at one point was heard to shout that she lives in a democratic country and can say what she likes.
Police assistance was requested on landing and police removed her from the plane in Milan.
However, the altercation took a turn for the worse when the woman pulled at the hair of another passenger. In the clip, she can also be heard mimicking the screams from the passenger.
Travel Daily Media has reported that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) usually has between 100 and 150 cases of bad inflight behaviour filed with them each year. So far in 2021 there have been 2,500 of which 1,900 were concerned with refusal to wear face masks.
The article discussed a number of possible reasons for this including a growing mistrust of “experts” who initially said masks were not required and then saying that they were mandatory. Taking masks off has become a symbol of standing up to expert opinion.
Increased vaccination rates was also cited as a reason for the issues. As more and more people get vaccinated, so many consider that they no longer need to wear masks.
The diverse opinions we see in everyday society on use of masks, vaccines and even Covid deniers are also seen in the air and can quickly become heated flashpoints.
Air circulation systems on aircraft are designed to mix recirculated air with fresh air from outside of the plane. The aircraft also have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that remove 99.95% harmful particles and contagious droplets.
These are designed, partly, to ensure that any viruses present on the plane are not spread to other passengers. Many airlines have increased circulation rates further following the pandemic.
The nature of plane travel, passengers all seated facing the same direction, generally with no singing or shouting, unless there is a party group or set of sports fans on board, mean that the risk on board is very low.
Risks may increase slightly when the plane is on the ground as the circulation system is often off at this time, but even that is not thought to be a risk.
Cleanliness On Board
Airlines have always had systems in place to ensure safety and cleanliness on board. Many have put additional deep cleaning, sanitation and safety measures in place to ensure that flights are safe for passengers and crew.
Many experts believe that the airport will be a greater risk for transmission than on board the plane due to the measures in place.
Many airlines removed food service from flights to help reduce risk.
Many experts have stated that passengers removing their mask to eat or drink will increase risk of transmission.
However it is not realistic to remove food service from all flights, especially long-haul flights.
A number of airlines have started to deliver “no contact” meals and snacks, served in a pre-packed bag.
Some airlines may try to reduce risk by staggering food service, rather than serving the whole plane. The risk will reduce if just certain passengers have removed their mask to eat and drink than if everyone in a section has removed their mask at the same time.
Toilet On Board
Once passengers start moving around the plane, the risk of transmission increases slightly.
Air flows are disturbed and there is likely to be more interaction and lack of social distancing while out of your seat.
Banning people from moving around the cabin is unfeasible however, how long can you ban use of a toilet for on board?
The toilet on an aircraft is well ventilated so that is not really a factor.
What could be a risk however are the hygiene standards of previous occupants.
If they have taken their face covering off during the toilet visit, the risk will increase.
Surface contamination is also possible on the toilet itself but more likely the door latch and lock, flush button, sink and surrounds. The risk is low but is still possible.
Our advice is to clean surfaces before you use them as well as after and wear your face covering the whole time that you are in the toilet.
In the next part of this series we will look at why Vaccine Passports will be an essential part of your future travel experience.
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