The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the air transport industry. Further, COVID-19 has caused a sense of fear amongst air travellers. The safe reopening of domestic and international travel is crucial to revive international business travel and help kick start economic recovery. There is an urgent need for an authentic document by experts in the field of aviation and health to allay the fear in the minds of the passengers thereby ensuring the revival of air travel to the pre-pandemic period.
Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI) and the Association of Private Airport Operators (APAO)] have created a joint advisory on ‘Resuming Safe Air Travel.’ Around 30 experts from various connected fields such as aviation travel medicine, infectious diseases, epidemiologist, virologists, community medicine, the technical advisory committee for COVID-19 members, and The Lancet COVID-19 commission India task force members were involved in creating the document along with inputs from WHO. Two groups of experts independently deliberated on the issue and came up with their recommendations, which was jointly discussed thread-bare and the unanimous decisions arrived upon, was compiled into the document – ‘Resuming Safe Air Travel,’ which took about two weeks and around 15 zoom interactions.
The document released by the Joint Secretary – Ministry of Civil Aviation, GoI has been handed over to the Secretary – Ministry of Civil Aviation GoI and the Minister for Health and Family Welfare Government of India.
Both the associations have recommended certain measures which if implemented is bound to encourage air travel and help the revival of the country’s economy. Excerpts from the recommendations:
- The government should facilitate the acceptance of WHO-approved vaccinations given in other parts of the world. The Ministry of Civil Aviation should encourage airlines operating from India to recognise the government approved Travel Pass App.
- Airport, airlines, support employees and aircrew should undertake the following measures like following COVID-appropriate behaviours, attending regular sessions on managing mental health issues of all personnel, undergo training to monitor COVID appropriate behaviour and handle passengers efficiently and strictly follow instructions regarding travel restrictions, isolation, screening and other safety procedures that are to be followed should be provided in multiple languages.
- Apart from these, precautions should be taken at the airport seating area, counters, toilets, baggage handling area, cafeterias, lounges, aerobridge, inside the aircraft etc.
- Proper usage of PPE and gloves and temperature screening at airports is also been recommended. Also, every major airport should have an air ambulance fitted with isolation pods to transport willing COVID-19 patients.
- At the check-in counter, the use of facial recognition technology to confirm identity is recommended. Passengers should display their boarding pass (also containing information about their vaccination status) on their mobile phones. The use of soft copies of documents for identity checks should be encouraged. The authentication of the passenger’s vaccination status should be verified. India should approve the IATA Travel Pass App or the India Digital COVID certificate which will contain the respective passenger’s vaccination status and RT-PCR reports. QR code scanning across airports and airlines should be implemented while QR code requirements in the RT-PCR should be made mandatory to meet international requirements.
- Onboard the aircraft, masks are to be worn continuously throughout the flight. Masks should be changed as required. The placement of cabin luggage in the overhead luggage compartment is to be done by the passenger. If necessary, cabin crew/ground crew assistance can be sought. Sanitiser should be used appropriately and regularly. The air vents above the seats should be kept open. The flight crew should remind passengers repeatedly about maskwearing and distancing through the public address system. In-flight snacks should preferably be avoided as serving meals on flights can pose a challenge in this environment.
- On flights where it cannot be avoided, snacks can be delivered using a contactless method such as wrapping the plate with cellophane wrap. The option of staggered meals can also be explored.
- While disembarking from the plane, passengers should do so row by row. Standing in the aisle should be prohibited. Touching other people or inanimate surfaces and use hand sanitisers should be avoided. Passengers should maintain safe distancing, especially in the aerobridge area, as ventilation is poor.