As travel restrictions and lockdowns everywhere ease, airports across the country are prepping for increased safety and security now that flights are operational across domestic routes. The Delhi International Airport, for instance, has been focusing on sanitisation, social distancing and other safety measures to minimise human contact. As of now, only terminal 3 is operational and no visitors will be allowed in.
Airports across Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are allowing flights in a limited capacity. These states do not want an influx of travellers amid the rising number of cases.
As rules and regulations shift and adjust to these delicate conditions, our experience as travellers will also change. Air travel may be a completely different story in the future.
The fares may rise, the routes may become fewer and health check-ups a mandatory exercise even after the pandemic.
One of the first things to become compulsory is social distancing protocols. Markers will be placed at every turn to remind people to maintain distance. Authorities and managers will be present at all kerbsides, security check areas, check-in halls and at boarding gates. Travellers will end up spending more time at the airport and will be expected to show up at least two hours before boarding.
To ease the flux of people, each airline will be assigned a special gate in tandem with the check-in counters for their domestic and international flights.
It will align passengers and make for smoother movement. For instance, at the Delhi international Airport, Vistara and IndiGo passengers have gates 1 and 2. Gates 3 and 4 have been assigned to Air Asia and Air India; SpiceJet, GoAir and other airlines will use Gate 5; and Gates 6, 7 and 8 have been allocated for international passengers only. These new rules will be implemented with proper signage at various checkpoints to direct passengers.
The idea is to avoid human contact as much as possible. Airport staff will be screened for temperature and any passenger showing signs of COVID-19 will be isolated according to government directives. Many airports are also considering installing UV machines to sanitise check-in baggage.
We suspect boarding passes may become a thing of the past. Indian airlines have made it mandatory for travellers to web check-in and, if possible, print their boarding pass in advance and highlight their names and flight details to avoid contact. In fact, self check-in, scan and fly, and self bag-tag facilities are being encouraged.
During the check-in, apart from social distancing markers, passengers will be provided with sanitisers at various touchpoints. As of now, passengers are only allowed one check-in and one carry-on bag.
Inside the airport, kiosks and food courts are going through a transformation as well. Digital payments are encouraged and shops have been set up to sell safety equipment like gloves and masks. Waiting areas will have alternate seats marked to allow staggered seating and high contact surfaces like desks, chairs, railings, elevators, escalators, trays and belts will be constantly disinfected.
Although aircrafts are fitted with HEPA filters that trap bacteria, and viruses, and recycle the air every few minutes, another mandatory addition to flying would be PPEs. Safety kits (with a sanitiser, face mask and face shield) will be provided to each passenger and staff. Guests will have to use them throughout the flight until they reach their destination, retrieve their bags and exit the terminal.
While boarding, queue managers will be made available at each gate. Many airlines are letting go of priority boarding privileges, and instead, opting for reverse boarding. There are plenty of in-flight changes coming too: no food will be served on board (at least for short-haul flights) and non-essential movement will be restricted. Lavatory use may be limited as well.
Passengers will have to follow security protocols during baggage reclamation and use hand sanitiser when exiting buses, cabs and bridges on the runway and arrival gate. For now, in India, these rules are applied to domestic flights only. But many countries, including the US, have extended them to international journeys too.
These rules are a quick and (mostly) efficient response to the global pandemic. But we are keeping an eye on the future and wondering what the long-term changes would be like. Airlines might alter the way seats are placed or even do away with cramped quarters of the economy class. Other changes might be introduced to the often lavish and indulgent services provided to the business and first-class passengers. While airlines have invested years in making flying the ultimate experience, there is no denying that in the future, travellers would prioritise space and health above all else. No matter what, the gears in the airline industry are definitely turning.