With tens of thousands of people expected to resume flying this summer, and as vaccines continue to be rolled out, a new version of the Aviation Health Safety Protocol gives some indication of what life might be like as a passenger in 2021.
While vaccination and testing checks obviously underpin these new guidelines they are also formed around the premise that anyone refusing to obey rules in terminals or on aircraft should be removed or dealt with in a similar manner to other “unruly passengers”.
The document, published this week by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is non-binding to individual member states but aims to secure some kind of uniformity across airports and airlines.
It is designed to complement other EU initiatives including the use of digital Covid certificates.
With a heavy emphasis on “non-pharmaceutical measures”, Thursday’s report underlines the need for ongoing compliance with measures including face masks, hygiene and physical distancing.
One aspect causing increasing interest among potential passengers is the recommendation that those who are fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 in the preceding 180 days should not be subject to testing or quarantine unless they are coming from an area of very high risk or where a variant of concern is found to be circulating.
In those latter cases, it says, the requirement for a negative test could be considered – either a rapid antigen test no more than 48 hours before arrival or a PCR test no more than 72 hours before arrival. There is also still a role for Passenger Locator Forms to facilitate contact tracing.
However, certain aspects of international travel look set to change under the new guidelines…
Non-essential airport services such as food and beverage vendors are expected to adopt the same public health precautions as on the outside world while reduced in-flight services would help avoid transmission on board.
“Studies have shown that plastic security-screening trays are frequently contaminated with respiratory viruses, therefore, their cleaning should be intensified,” the report notes.
How people board aircraft is also likely to become more complicated for anyone observing the protocol.
“[Alternative] boarding procedures could be considered, for example boarding first all window seats, then middle seats, followed by aisle seats,” it says.
“If the embarkation and disembarkation procedures are adapted, the aircraft operator should give proper consideration to the possible umpact on the aircraft balance in order to avoid an increase of aircraft tail tipping risk.”
Meanwhile Duty free could disappear while long airline corridor queues for bathrooms are advised against.
“Moreover, aircraft operators should consider in their risk assessment the effects of the use of alcohol in terms of compliance.”
In a concerted effort at minimising disruption the document stresses that “checking for proof of vaccination or recovery should not create bottlenecks and queues in airport processes.
The protocol recommends that the information should be checked once on each journey, ideally prior to arriving at the airport of departure. This should also be the case for transfer passengers.”
Despite the increasing inconvenience imposed by pandemic life, the protocol states clearly that those “who refuse to adhere to the preventive measures in place should be refused access to the airport’s terminal building, to the aircraft cabin, or disembarked, if the event takes place before the aircraft doors are shut, and removed from the airport premises by the competent authorities”.
However, it also notes that “special attention needs to be given to the management of unruly or disruptive passengers with respect to the psychological pressure incurred by the pandemic”.
EASA executive director Patrick Ky said the guide represented a “real change in approach” in that people could now fly without having to worry “excessively” that rules may change at a moment’s notice.