Consumers are expected to scope out the situation, and adjust to new pre-flight changes at airports

New changes consumers should expect at airports post-lockdown

* TSA reels off measures to expect at American airports as economy reopens

* Airlines may jack up fares by 40-50% after Coronavirus lockdowns

* Stakeholders move to regain, enhance consumer confidence in flying

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has induced significant, extreme disruptions and subsequent thousands of cancellations of flights in several economies across the world.

As a capital intensive and sensitive industry, airports are airfield facilities where civil aircraft may take off and land, especially ones equipped with surfaced runways and facilities for handling passengers and cargo.

ConsumerConnect gathered that several aviation authorities are introducing fresh measures towards further curbing the spread, or prevent a new outbreak of the deadly pandemic at the various airports around the world.

Having been negatively affected by the rampaging virus, aviation stakeholders and the entire sector are said to be highly distressed, hence, the need to take extra measures to improve the lot of the troubled aviation industry as global economies recover post-lockdowns.

The PC Agency in London, United Kingdom (UK) posits that as regards COVID-19, the onus should be on airports to ensure safe travels post-lockdown.

On the consumers’ use of no masks or otherwise when economies bounce back after lockdown, it maintains that the question is at the top of the list of possible safety measures being considered by airlines at the moment as they battle to climb out of the biggest crisis ever facing the aviation industry. In terms of challenges, it doesn’t get any bigger than Coronavirus.

Industry body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is recommending mandatory face-coverings for passengers, and masks for the crew, among the actions airlines need to take to reduce the already low risk of contracting COVID-19 on board.

These actions and others, including limiting movement within the cabin during a flight, are in danger of making the travelling experience miserable for anyone looking forward to a holiday or business trip, says the agency.

Physical distancing measures, including the possibility put forward by EasyJet of removing the middle seat in each row, would fundamentally change the economics of airlines.

It further stated that with airline load factors needing to be an average of 78% just to break even, then, restricting passenger numbers on board surely isn’t the right answer? It would push up fares by 40-50% and put off many people from flying at a time when the market is fragile enough.

“As we wait for a vaccine to be developed, and then put into mass production, we could be waiting 15 months or so before traveller confidence returns to levels seen pre-Coronavirus,” states The PC Agency.

The United States Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), for instance, has experienced a recent growth of travellers coming through airport checkpoints, according to ConsumerAffairs report.

Now, with Memorial Day last weekend and summer upon the American populace, the agency wants travellers to know that there are substantial changes awaiting them at the airports.

Expectations in screening process

Report says at the heart of the agency’s changes is reducing the potential for cross-contamination.

To make that happen, physical contact is being limited and physical distancing is being extended. The next time you fly, here’s what you can expect:

Travellers keep their boarding passes to themselves. Instead of travellers handing over boarding passes to a TSA officer at the travel document podium, they will now place their boarding pass (paper or one from a phone app) on the boarding pass reader themselves.

Once that’s done, travellers will be asked to show their boarding pass to the TSA officer at the podium to visually inspect it.

Separate ‘food for x-ray’ screening

Any passenger carrying on food will be required to place the food into a clear plastic bag and then into a bin, like travellers have been doing with laptops, shoes, and belts.

The reason for this? Food items have been known to trigger alarms, and separating the food reduces the chance that a TSA officer will need to open the carry-on bag and remove the food items to take a closer look.

While this may sound odd, the TSA thinks that requiring this will create better social distancing and reduce the potential for cross-contamination.

By the way, TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags.

Changes to packing and carry-on 

This is a big change, so heads-up. Items such as liquids, gels, or aerosols in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces in a traveller’s carry-on bag are still a no-no.

But, in response to COVID-19, TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitiser container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags.

Airlines make efforts at regaining, improving consumer confidence in flying post-lockdowns

Passengers are required to remove the hand sanitiser from the carry-on bag before being submitted for x-ray screening.

Travellers should know that the TSA has thrown a wrench in the works if the scanner finds that a bag contains a prohibited item.

If the scanner finds something, passengers may be directed to return to the table outside of security with their carry-on bags where they’ll be asked to remove and dispose of the item.

Passengers may also be directed back outside of security to remove items that should have originally been taken out and scanned separately in the first place.

Once that hurdle is cleared, passengers will have to resubmit their property for x-ray screening.

Though this may sounds like a big hassle, yet the TSA’s thinking is that if officers have to touch contents inside a carry-on bag much less frequently, then the potential for cross-contamination is greatly reduced.

Travellers, therefore, are encouraged to remove items such as belts and items from their pockets, such as wallets, keys and phones, and put them directly into their carry-on bags instead of into the bins to reduce touch-points during the screening process.

Practise physical or social distancing. 

Like everyplace else, the security process at the airports post-lockdown will require physical or social distancing to reduce direct contact between employees and travellers. The TSA also has placed visual reminders on checkpoint floors to help out, but it wants travellers to understand that know that no two airports are laid out the same.

So, things might look different in Detroit than, say, Denver in the US.

Wear facial protection

As the UK agency has noted earlier, the TSA officers at checkpoints are now using facial protection, and travellers are “encouraged” to wear face protection to the checkpoint. The body knows that passengers might have to adjust their masks during the screening process, and it’s ok with that.

Other coming changes

It should be noted that travellers who have not flown since the COVID-19 pandemic started might see some additional modifications at the airports, says the TSA.

Here are certain additional safety measures to expect:

  • Reduced security lane usage due to the reduction in passenger volume.
  • All TSA officers at checkpoints are required to wear masks and gloves.
  • At some locations, officers might also be wearing eye protection and clear plastic face shields.
  • Officers will continue the practice of changing gloves after each pat-down.
  • Plastic shielding installed at many travel document checking podiums, divest, bag search, and drop off locations.
  • Frequently touched surfaces in the screening checkpoint area are getting routine cleaning and disinfecting.

Strategic moves to enhance consumer confidence

How do the aviation stakeholders create more confidence now so that consumers return to the skies more quickly? Paul Charles asks in a piece at The PC Agency.

It is said that airports will need to take a greater role in helping to attract consumers and, crucially, reassure them that they will have a safe journey.

According to author, the onus should be on airports primarily to test departing (and arguably arriving) passengers and crew so that they can be declared “COVID-free” before then even setting foot on a plane.

With such large terminals and even hangars available, airports are the ideal locations to create secure testing areas to check passengers’ health before they could potentially spread the virus further in the air.

Medical technology is improving at such a rapid rate at the moment that test results will be available quickly, within an hour.

Passengers would be asked to check in three to four hours before a flight to ensure they could be tested in good time.

Once the result is known, a passenger could then be cleared to move to the next boarding zone before then being asked to board, states the piece.

With passengers being reassured that everyone on board is “COVID-clean” airlines will able to fill their planes to 100% load factor.

It is said that if this measure is taken, it would eliminate the need to push up prices substantially for each seat.

It would also mean that airlines could contribute back to the airports through maximum fees per passenger.

This money would then feed back into the aviation economy and protect thousands of jobs at airports, who would have invested in the technology initially.

Testing on the ground at airports is just a key measure that needs to be implemented. Airlines will have to play their part and deep-clean cabins more often but if the potential for Coronavirus to spread is eliminated at the airport, then airlines will stand a greater chance of overcoming this crisis and survive long enough to rebuild to sunnier days ahead.

Therefore, depending on local, state or national guidelines, airports and airlines may have changed things like check-in and boarding in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Travellers flying for the first time in a while are thus encouraged to get to the airport earlier than usual so they can scope out the situation and adjust to the pre-flight changes as best they can.

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