Coronavirus: What It Will Take To Open Airports and the Changes to Expect

The Covid-19 pandemic has had severe effects on air travel across the globe. Stay-at-home orders and government measures have restricted passengers from crossing borders or merely leaving their houses thus reducing demand for flights. After these unexpected changes, specialists are already planning on how to revive the industry after the pandemic is over.

For instance, being the busiest airports in India, thousands of people want the Indira Gandhi Airport open again. They are asking questions like how long it will take travel to resume and what things should the air travel do to get back to normal after a lock period in lockdown?

These are just some confusing pieces that need to be discussed by airlines, organizations, and governments across the globe to get things back to normal after the pandemic.

Below are some barriers that need to be reversed before airports are opened, and planes start flying again:

Reverse the travel restrictions especially across the globe

One of the main reasons why air travel demand has been massively affected is the travel restrictions in most nations. Before planes start flying internationally again, this has to change. The restrictions have to be rescinded.

According to Jay Shabat, a senior air travel analyst at Skift, some of the restrictions will take longer to lift globally.

Airlines that are still flying several international flights- mostly to transport essential goods such as masks to their home countries are still finding themselves caught up in a web of frequently changing international restrictions. These flights are already experiencing challenges since regulations keep changing now and then.

 A plane might be flying to a particular nation and a few minutes before they land, they learn that a new regulation has developed. They have to consult whether the crew members are allowed to that country or not. This is happening and the trend will continue until everything gets back to normal.

Reports suggest that organizations such as the World Economic Forum are doing their best to agreements with airlines, airports . They urge them to come up with a smoother transition to allow travel instead of the bit by bit method that countries closed borders and airlines stopped travel. This process will be gradual and with time, the airports will be reopened. Borderdata.io is a site I personally use to check if and when India’s airports and borders will reopen. 

Fleets should get out of storage – and airplanes given new certificates

According to Helane Becker, a Cowen investment bank airline analyst, almost 50% of the fleet across the globe is grounded because of coronavirus. Some of it is for a long-term period. The engines have been preserved and all oil and fuel removed. When this is all over and the planes need to begin flying again, they will need time to return to flying mode.

Every airplane has to be tested and certified for upcoming operations. Airlines with several planes parked in a storage area might not be able to check all of them weekly. This means it will not be easy just to get them back flying once things get back to normal. For aircraft that were stored and the engines were not run for long, reinstating them can be a challenging process that will take time.

The quickest time frames for aircraft to be deployed ranges from 22-5 days. This depends on how they were stored. Each aircraft needs to meet the required standards established by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization. 

Do not be surprised if most of the planes that are grounded fail to fly again. For instance, the U.S airlines might retire between 800-1000 planes after the pandemic is over.

Several airlines, however, continue to fly most of their aircrafts just to maintain their shape in case demand starts to rise. This, however, means they are operating at a loss. One of those airlines is southwest. The airline loses money every time they fly a plane.

Experts expect airlines to focus on local flights first even when the coronavirus case goes down. They suggest that people will still be reluctant to fly overseas. Most will want to fly around the nation compared to abroad.

Airport workers and airline crew has to be brought back in huge numbers

Do you think it’s only the aircraft that have been grounded? Thousands of pilots and flight attendants across the world have been discontinued while others were sent on voluntary leave after routes and airports were closed. For the airlines to resume regular flights, it will be crucial to bring these employees back.

This process will take time, as well. For instance, for a pilot who has not been flying for a few months, they have to get a specific number of flying hours before they start flying again. It is according to the recency requirements. A pilot with a lapsed recency as a result of the pandemic should compensate the time in a flight simulator before they can fly again.

Pilots should also get their accreditation rechecked. This depends on how long they have not been flying.

It will also be challenging when it comes to staff that has been redeployed to other sectors. For instance, in places like the U.K and Sweden, flight attendants were requested to become healthcare assistants when the pandemic got worse. Some crew members have gone to serve in the military temporarily.

Because of this, airlines will need to concentrate on training their workers again efficiently and smartly. They also have to ensure these workers get the required certifications.

Airport workers who have been affected by the pandemic will also have to get back to work. For instance, when Kempegowda airport opens again, they have to consider security and ground handling. All this will of course take time and will depend on many things.

However, not all airline employees will return to their jobs. There is a possibility that some of the smaller employees might not come back. This means that airlines have to hire new people. This process will take time as well.

Airports will require adapting to new health requirements

For travelers to regain trust in the air travel industry, new health measures need to be implemented mostly in airports. One thing you should expect to be different in the airports is health screening. It will take time for people to get used to the whole process since it is challenging trying to understand health screening rules.

For smooth operations, airports across the globe will be required to agree on similar health measures. If health measures are different in every airport, they are going to be tough to implement compared to when airports have one uniform rule.

The airports that are reopening currently might have some clues to offer when everything comes back to normal. Chinese airports are an example. For instance, they are taking temperatures 3-4 times for each passenger who goes through an airport and boards a plane.

When huge airports like the Indira Gandhi airport open again, they will need to design how they operate. A social-distancing world might be the new order. Some of these popular and busy airports might discover they can never use the smaller area they were using to process passengers.

More technology might also be something we are about to witness, especially biometrics. Fingerprint, facial recognition and other technologies might become common in airports. An improvement in technology such as digital identity will reduce touching and enhance the speed of processing passengers through airports.

However, the main thing that will determine the recovery in air travel is if airports, airlines and governments can strike the right balance by ensuring passengers it is safe to be on airports or in a plane again and easing the process of booking flights. People have to overcome the fear of flying for the industry to recover.

Ways in which coronavirus will change how people fly

Many things are likely to change when it comes to the way we fly after the pandemic. Reports suggest that most airlines are expecting it to take 2-3 years before passenger capacity gets back to normal. The industry has to reshape and reimagine airports and airlines in a bid to form a better future for passengers, airports and people in general.

It is estimated that this year has 1.5 billion lesser travelers. Seat capacity is set to be reduced, which will lead to a loss of billions. 

For airports that have opened, they are already encouraging fliers to carry their own food. This will help reduce touching moments between employees and customers. Airline travel will be very different when the pandemic is over. The ticket prices might go up; check-ins might take longer and inflight beverages might not be available.

Most airlines are keen to get passenger volume back up again. They will have to implement some changes to prevent the virus from spreading. According to reports, the air travel industry has seen traffic decline by 95%. Two airlines have already been declared bankrupt.

  1. Tickets prices will probably go up

If airports and planes try to enforce the social distancing rule, reports suggest that prices might go up by 50%. There are airlines such as Delta who have said they are willing to remove the seat in the middle for safe distance among people who are traveling. The plane designers are also planning to install plastic screens between seats.

2. No more inflight magazines and paper menus

Passengers might not be able to enjoy some of these privileges like before. Inflight meals will change. For instance, American Airlines has already decided not to offer meals or alcohol except on international flights. Delta airlines have encouraged their customers to bring their own foods.

There is another reason why you might be required to carry a snack. The checkup process at the airport might be very long.

3. You might be needed to draw blood for a test

Are you traveling out of Dubai? The Emirates is doing blood tests for some passengers. Who knows whether this might be the new norm? In India for instance, there are disinfection tunnels that disinfect passengers before they gather.

4. Passengers might need to sign health acknowledgment forms

In the USA, some airlines require you to sign a health acknowledgment form. This is to certify that neither the passenger nor any family member has contracted the coronavirus 14 days before the flight. No one will be allowed to fly if they have a fever or cough.

5. Passengers should expect more inconvenience during travel

You can expect fewer options, and some routes that have direct flights will need planes to connect. Hubs layovers might be longer. Some of the early morning, popular flights and late evening routes that were a norm before COVID-19 might take years to resume. The midday flights that most business passengers are not aware of could be reduced.

These are just some of the changes you should expect. It is likely there will be more.

Final thoughts

It will be a process for things at the airports to get back to normal. For instance, to get Indira Gandhi airport open again, they have to assure passengers that the airport is free of the virus. They will have to clean the airport thoroughly, conduct temperature checks and ensure the attendants are wearing masks and gloves. The passengers themselves might also be required to wear masks while traveling.

The governments will also have to play a significant role if things are to get back to normal. They have to enforce the rules and regulations in airports. They should use their authority and ensure employees and crew members have masks. The airports and airlines have a responsibility to provide their employees with protective gear even after the virus is contained.

Note that it will be hard to predict what will change after the pandemic, but if the right measures are taken you will see most airports in India open again for tourists.