September 19, 2020

What to Expect When You Fly in the Future | WSJ

(airplane engine whirring) – [Narrator] Flying meansgoing to the airport, dropping off your luggage at check in, maybe buying a coffee in the terminal, and finally taking aseat on a crowded plane.

That journey now looks to some travelers like a potential minefieldfor catching the coronavirus.

And that's one big reason so many people have stopped traveling.

– It's no secret that the travel industry has seen an incredible drop in demand.

– I think it's important forthem to put measures into place that can help travelers feela little more comfortable.

– [Narrator] The crowdedspaces, shared surfaces, and necessary human interactionin airports and on airplanes all have the potential to spread the virus between travelers andultimately between countries.

– The airport experience, likemany of our experiences today are going to be transformed by these new technological capabilities.

– [Narrator] So what is the industry doing to make us feel safe again? And how could that change the way we fly? Let's start at check in.

– The use of face masks by everyone is going to be the mostimportant measure we can take to minimize the risk oftransmission while traveling.

– [Narrator] In India, passengers have to show they have a contract tracingapp installed on their phones in order to enter the terminal.

And at Delhi InternationalAirport, luggage has to go through a UV sanitizing tunnel as well.

Inside the airport, on top of disinfectantwipes and hand sanitizer, some companies havestarted making prototypes for self-service kiosksthat are touch free.

This one from Millennium Automation, allows travelers to makeselections by moving their head.

– The evolution in thatdirection actually started significantly before the pandemic.

The pandemic has added urgency.

To the greatest extent possible, if a touch is required, it's on your device, on your phone.

– [Narrator] For thosewith luggage to check, kiosks that allow flyers to tagand handover bags themselves could become the norm.

But for now, many stillrequire you to pass luggage off to an agent, whichmeans standing in line.

But now with all the basicsocial distancing accessories.

– There are social distancing markers in all of the queue areas.

There will be plexiglass shields at every station wherean agent is available to assist a customer.

– [Narrator] Next, comes security.

This is where some airports are trying to not only prevent Covid-19 transmission, but identify passengers thatmay be carrying the virus.

London's HeathrowAirport is running trials of temperature scans to lookfor travelers with a fever.

That said, a fever is only a symptom, not a confirmation someonehas or doesn't have the virus.

And Lufthansa plans tooffer coronavirus tests to flyers in Germany.

The airline saystravelers will get results in about four hours.

– Nine eleven birthed the TSA.

We anticipate there is goingto be something to ensure the customers safe transitthrough air travel.

– [Narrator] In the US, the TSA was already using facial recognition, ratherthan manual ID checks to screen some travelers.

But with a desire for more touchless tech, you might be seeing morebiometric entry in the future.

– To some extent, facialtechnology may come into it, for those who are comfortable with it.

– [Narrator] The TSA saysbiometric checks are quicker, but packed security linesstill pose a transmission risk.

One possible solution, security appointments.

Montreal's International airport has allowed travelers to booka time slot online for years.

And a similar systemcould help other airports avoid crowding.

Once through security, travelers face the potential of crowded restaurants and shops.

At the Port Authority's airports, flyers can use their phonesto order food and retail items directly to their gate, rather than risk linesand further interaction.

It's important for airport'srevenues to get this right.

One industry group estimatesthat airports bring in about seven dollars per passengerfrom non-aviation revenue.

Now that may not sound like much , but last year, 140 million passengers passed through the PortAuthority's airports.

And some brands, like Estee Lauder, have higher sales at majorairports than they do in North American department stores.

But just waiting at the gate may not be travelers best option either as crowds tend to form ahead of boarding.

– If it were me, I would probably hang out somewhere else in theairport, at a different gate, and wait until they're boarding.

– [Narrator] Delta ishoping to avoid the rush by boarding planes 10 flyers at a time.

And they still have tobe wearing those masks.

– [Bill] If customers do nothave a mask, we will have masks and we will have sanitizeravailable for them throughout the journey.

– [Narrator] The plane itselfpresents one of the biggest challenges in avoidingthe spread of the virus.

For airlines, mitigation efforts start before travelers board.

– [Bill] We do electrostatic spraying prior to every departure.

The spray will kill viruses on contact.

– [Narrator] When boarding, Delta, like some others, is starting with passengersin the back of the plane to limit traffic jams in the aisle.

And Singaporean Airline Scootis restricting the amount of hand luggage you can bring on board to avoid a scrum at the overhead bins.

Once seated, travelers willlikely have some extra space.

Delta has, for now, banned the middle seat and is limiting the amountof passengers on board.

– No airline will be dispatched above a 60% seating capacity.

So if there are 100 seats on board, no more then 60 customerson board the aircraft.

– [Narrator] Still thatseating cap isn't in place for all airlines.

And some travelers havereported crowded flights.

And when the middle seat does return, it may be surrounded by dividers or facing the other way.

The confined space makesonboard ventilation even more important to people.

Good airflow is key todiluting the amount of virus potentially floating around.

– [Bill] We use filterscalled Hepa filters, the same filters they use in hospital ICUs and emergency rooms.

Every two to five minutes, depending upon the aircraft type, the air on board the airplaneis exchanged with outside air.

– [Narrator] Some airlinesare also eliminating meal services, in flightmagazines, and duty free cards.

While others, includingDelta, are opting for pre-wrapped snack packages, all to minimize contact.

For now, airports and airlinesare able to implement some of those strategies because notthat many people are flying.

Which is also due to travel restrictions and reduced flights.

But the real question iswhether airports and airlines will invest in these measuresand whether they can afford to operate with them in the long run.

– We are not gonna giveup on our level of safety.

And if means that we havegot to completely re-engineer our processes, in orderto allow more to come, and allow profitability toreturn, we are going to do it.

– [Narrator] Until there'sa world-wide standard, a lot of these crucialdecisions will ultimately come down to the individualairlines and airports.

– These measures have to be effective because if there is someoutbreak on an airplane, then that's gonna, nobody'sgonna want to travel anymore.

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