Passengers and airlines would face radical changes to the process of air travel under IATA’s guidelines for restarting the industry when the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.

While its recommendations are not binding, the association hopes that governments, airlines and airports will adopt the measures as a middle ground to allow passengers to fly safely while enabling the industry and wider economy to open up.

Alexandre de Juniac IATA

Source: IATA

De Juniac sees short window to reach agreement on initial standards

Describing the challenge of resuming operations as the “greatest challenge in civil aviation history”, IATA is proposing a “layered approach” to biosecurity, which will impact the customer experience even before passengers arrive at the airport.

“There is no single measure that will reduce risk and enable a safe restart of flying,” says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “But a layering measures that are globally implemented and mutually recognised by governments can achieve the needed outcome.”

IATA is recommending that governments set up online portals to collect pre-flight information that can be used to asses passengers’ health status and allow contact-tracing should they become unwell.

Once at the airport, travellers face temperature-screening and physical distancing, and will be required to wear masks for the duration of their journeys.

Aircraft boarding will have to be modified to allow greater social distancing, and there will be an increase in self-scanning of documents to minimise human-to-human interaction. Carry-on luggage should also be minimised in order to smooth out the boarding process.

Once on board, passengers will be banned from changing seats and may be handed wipes to sanitise their seat environment.

However, given that passengers and crew will be required to wear masks and that aircraft are fitted with medical-grade air filters, IATA does not believe that physical distancing will be required. “Physical distancing on board, through for example blocking seats, is not necessary,” argues Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice-president for airport, passenger cargo and security.

Under IATA’s recommendations, deplaning would take longer and increase in complexity to minimise contact between passengers.

Passengers may again face temperature-screening at their destinations, while a faster baggage-claim process will minimise contact and allow social distancing. But IATA hopes that disruption here can be minimised by mutual recognition of the origin airport’s screening measures.

Given the additional suite of biosecurity measures, passengers may find that the entire airport process is extended. “We are modelling it,” says Careen.

IATA believes this system strikes the “right compromise” between the needs to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to open up the economy, while avoiding adding too many constraints to travellers.

Yet it is also clear that such a system will add significant cost and complexity to the system, and render it daunting for many passengers.

“This can be done in the most inobtrusive way possible if we educate our passengers,” Careen contends, adding that rollout of the programme will be accompanied with a communications strategy.

The additional cost of the process should be shared between airlines, governments and airports, in IATA’s view. “We do not expect too many difficulties on that point,” says de Juniac, on the grounds that “what [we] are proposing is pretty reasonable”.

IATA highlights that the process was designed with cost in mind, and that the equipment required is either relatively low-tech, such as masks and disinfectant wipes, or already available.

The association also stresses that measures should be temporary, regularly reviewed and “replaced when more efficient options are identified or removed should they become unnecessary”. Longer-term, it hopes that coronavirus testing in airports and immunity passports can be used to smooth the travel process for travellers.

“The roadmap is the industry’s high-level thinking on safely restarting aviation. Timing is critical,” says de Juniac. “Governments understand the importance of aviation to the social and economic recovery of their countries and many are planning a phased reopening of borders in the coming months.

“We have a short time to reach agreement on the initial standards to support safely reconnecting the world and to firmly establish that global standards are essential to success.”