Brave new world of travel: How your experience of flying is likely to change forever-Shiv Nalapat

From mandated social distancing, to thermal scans and potentially higher fares, your journey is likely to get a whole lot more cumbersome.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Be prepared for a whole host of health and safety measures that could include temperature checks and individual health questionnaires
  • Airlines have made hygiene and safety of the aircraft their highest priority, with tray tables, seats, toilets, overhead nozzles and other commonly touched surfaces disinfected regularly
  • Depending on the airline you are flying, you may or may not be provided an in-flight meal.

The pandemic has had a considerable impact across all sectors but the airline industry has, without a doubt, suffered the greatest. With air travel demand unlikely to pick up anywhere close to pre-COVID-19 levels any time soon, CRISIL has estimated a total revenue loss of between Rs 24,000 to Rs 25,000 in the aviation industry this year. 70 per cent of these losses will be borne by the airlines themselves, with airport retailers and airport authorities sharing in the remainder. 

India’s carriers are, arguably, facing their darkest moment since the birth of air travel itself, and in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatments for the infection, your average journey – something which you might’ve undertaken umpteen number of times – is set to undergo a radical transformation. 

You may notice the change while getting to the airport itself, and most certainly will if you’re travelling by taxi in Kerala. Taxi drivers, shuttling travellers to and from airports in the south Indian state, have begun installing fibreglass partitions between themselves and their passengers, in order to maintain social distancing. Everyone in the car is also mandated to wear masks, while the driver also wears gloves. 

At the airport

Having arrived at the airport, you will now have to adhere to markings on the passenger kerbside to ensure social distancing. These measures have already been instituted at the Indira Gandhi Delhi Airport, along with the appointment of queue managers to ensure people are keeping safe distance from each other. You are likely to see these markings throughout the airport, from self-check in kiosks, to security checkpoints, seating areas, boarding gates, food courts and lounges. 

Be prepared for a whole host of health and safety measures that could include thermal scans, temperature checks, and individual health questionnaires. These checks are expected to significantly increase wait times, so travellers are expected to arrive at the airport between two and three hours before their scheduled times of departure. 

The new airport experience will encourage minimum contact at every stage of a traveller’s journey from self check-in to seating. According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi airport, used trolleys will be sanitised via disinfection tunnels. Some airports are also discussing the idea of having travellers seated near security checkpoints, with individual names called for screening and checks, so as to avoid queues entirely. All passenger baggage will also have to be placed through ultraviolent disinfection tunnels. 

After you’ve passed through security, social distancing will still need to be maintained at food courts and retail shops. The Mumbai and Delhi Airport authorities are also encouraging cashless transactions. Stalls selling masks, gloves and personal protective equipment will also be common sights, with hand sanitisers provided by airport authorities. 

On the aircraft

While boarding the flight, you will notice all aircraft personnel including stewards and airhostesses wearing full PPE kits. Airlines have made hygiene and safety of the aircraft their highest priority, with tray tables, seats, toilets, overhead nozzles and other commonly touched surfaces disinfected regularly using international standard cleaning agents. 

In April, the civil aviation security bureau proposed that airlines should not sell the middle seat in passenger rows, while keeping the last three rows of an aircraft empty as well, in the event that a passenger needs to be quarantined mid-flight. 

However, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has since question the proposal calling to attention the already slim margins that airlines operate with, and the likely inability to break-even if an aircraft is flying with just two-thirds occupancy. In an environment where demand is likely to be severely dampened, such a measure, if mandated, may force airline operators to increase their fares significantly or scrap particular routes entirely.

Depending on the airline you are flying, you may or may not be provided an in-flight meal. Indigo airlines, for instance, has already announced that it is scrapping its in-flight meal service for economy and premium economy travellers. In-flight reading material may also be a thing of the past. 

Once your flight has landed, you will have to undertake similar health and safety checks at your destination, before being permitted to exit the airport, all in all making the entire experience excruciatingly long and cumbersome.

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