Europe’s safety regulator is warning of the potential for increased unruly behaviour from passengers after it drew up a safety protocol of measures intended to ensure safety during restoration of airline services.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published the documentation jointly with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in order to provide guidelines to airports and airlines as flights resume following the coronavirus crisis.

It emphasises an “end-to-end” and “pragmatic” approach – covering six phases of the journey - which recognises that airlines, aircraft and airports are individually different.

“Some overarching principles apply throughout,” states EASA. “Observe physical distancing wherever possible, wear a medical face-mask to protect other passengers, and practice scrupulous and frequent hand hygiene.”

Air passengers and the general population have to be assured that filtered air on aircraft is safer and cleaner than many people breathe on the ground, it adds.

“Assurance of health safety is a critical factor for the resumption of commercial air travel,” says EASA executive director Patrick Ky.

“This protocol is the blueprint for safe air travel, from the moment of arrival at the departure airport right through to leaving the airport at the destination.”

It covers pre-arrival, terminal and boarding, in-flight measures, transit and arrival, with a separate section for crew. Non-travellers will need to separate from travellers before entering the terminal, except in special cases.

Airlines and airports will need to adapt the guidelines to individual facilities and operations, with support from EASA and the ECDC. The protocol states that “significant changes” will be required in airline and airport processes, with risk-mitigation put in place where physical distancing is not possible.

Wherever possible passengers on board should be distanced if load, cabin configuration and centre-of-gravity considerations allow – although EASA says the guidelines “offer some flexibility due to the constrained space”.

But the protocol warns that an increase in cases of unruly or disruptive passengers “should be expected” either prior to departure or during flight.

“This may be due to passengers not wishing to sit next to each other or accusing each other of not following the rules,” it states.

“There is a strong potential for conflict if it is not managed properly. In the worst-case, panic could become quite a serious threat to flight safety – for example if there are significant displacements within the cabin.”

European transport commissioner Adina Valean says the protocol is intended to “reassure passengers that it is safe for them to fly” and therefore help the industry recover.

Passengers will also be asked to provide contact information to allow for tracking and tracing if someone on a particular flight later tests positive for coronavirus.