Air Travel Post-COVID

For the past four months the spread of the novel coronavirus has caused passenger demand to collapse, forcing airlines to park, rather than fly their planes. As countries transition from lockdowns to reopening their borders, the wearing of face masks helps signal the return of safer travels, while also providing personal protection for users as well as those around them.

As Covid-19 spreads, governments worldwide chose to ban entry to non-residents in the interest of preserving public health. Some countries like India, Malaysia and South Africa stopped issuing visitor visas altogether. Others like the Australia, New Zealand and the United States suspended visa-free travel reciprocity.

Recently, we’ve seen different governments starting to reopen their borders. Just like Kenya, the South African government recently announced efforts to reopen the country’s tourism sector. With one exception. The move only applies to domestic travellers; international tourists will have to wait a bit longer. Egypt, while having one of the highest infection numbers, welcomed its first international tourist flight on July 1st from Ukraine, do note that they were among the first African nation to be awarded the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) ‘Safe Travels’ stamp. The specially designed stamp will allow travellers to recognize governments and companies around the world which have adopted global, standardized health and hygiene protocols to experience ‘Safe Travels’

On the 6th July 2020, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta announced that local air travel will resume on Wednesday, July 15 in strict conformity with the guidelines of the Ministries of Health and Transport. “International travel will resume on August 1, 2020,” he added.  These eased restrictions were conditional and that the nation would revert to lockdown if health trend signals worsen. The president said the patterns of the disease would be studied for the next 21 days.

The East African Business Council (EABC) is rallying its member states to reopen the regional airspace. Tanzania resumed international flights on May 18 while Rwanda announced that commercial flights would resume August 2. In a statement released on 12th July 2020, the regional body commended the public health measures taken aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19 but insisted air travel is vital to the economic health of countries.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has called upon all travellers to don protective face masks to show they ‘wear to care’ in the new normal of travelling.

Airports and airlines are now focusing on the ‘new normal’ ways to have passengers onboard, most importantly to regain confidence of passengers that need to travel – is it safe, sanitized and sustainable? These have become new priorities. Most airports are reportedly introducing screens at check-in counters, rearranging seats and putting marks on the floor to facilitate physical distancing, and installing hand sanitizing stations to ensure safety. Some of the airports are reportedly conducting temperature checks too.

More airlines are now encouraging passengers to check in online, others may end up limiting passenger capacity while those who can afford it, are leaving middle seats empty. Food and beverage options will also be affected to reduce physical touch between passengers and employees, several carriers are opting to have domestic flights give an “all-in-one snack bag” containing a bottle of water, sanitizer wipes and two snacks while International flyers being served pre-packed meals might be the new way.

So, in lesser words, the industry will soon recover, but when that happens air travel is likely to look very unfamiliar.

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