How will future social distancing affect air travel?

Across the EU, governments are making preparations for the end of coronavirus lockdown. Italy and Spain, among other countries, have announced how they plan to ease restrictions in the coming weeks.

But, when air travel is eventually reopened to the public, how will this be managed?

What restrictions will be in place to ensure passengers are safe?

While US airlines have taken their own measures to deal with this, the European Commission has announced that, next month, it will be presenting a set of guidelines for European airports and airlines.

What are the proposed safety measures? 

In a tweet, EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said some of the steps the Commissions is considering include:

  • Social distancing at airports and on planes
  • Wearing face masks
  • Disinfecting airports and planes
  • Blocking middle seats

“All this should be part of those guidelines and probably by mid-May we can put forward this strategy we are working on,” Vălean said.

In the US, the CDC has not introduced any mandatory safety requirements; but, many airlines are implementing their own measures.

For example, Delta is encouraging passengers to wear protective gear like face masks. Others are taking steps like not using middle seats, changing boarding processes, and pausing automatic upgrades.

What do the airlines say? 

The proposals from the EU have been met with mixed responses from airlines. Michael O’Leary, Chief executive of RyanAir, Europe’s biggest airline, said the idea of flying with empty middle seats is “mad” and would be unaffordable, as well as “hopelessly ineffective”.

However, he said the company would support other measures, such as mandatory face masks and temperature checks for both passengers and staff.

When flights resume, airlines say concerns over the virus spreading could put many people off flying. This would affect their profitability, and it’s not clear how the industry would cope.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already estimated that the crisis could cost airlines up to a massive $314 billion.

Valean’s Twitter announcement said it’s not possible to say when flights can resume as there’s no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 at the moment. And, when they do resume, social distancing precautions would need to be in place for some time.

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