Published August 4th, 2020
The Current Status of the Airline Industry
In the past ten years or so prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline industry had been experiencing rapid growth. What used to be a luxury only the truly rich could afford, had now become accessible to everyone through budget carriers, new flight routes, and online booking.
In the midst of the current pandemic, the airline industry also took one of the biggest hits. With most of the world relying on modified quarantine measures in order to flatten the curve until a cure is discovered and distributed, non-essential international travel is banned in several destinations. For passenger flights that get the greenlight, however, social distancing must be practiced which means planes can’t be filled to capacity. Airlines that can’t cope with the revenue drop are relying on the financial help of governments in order to prevent complete bankruptcy.
Official Airport Reopening Guidance From ICAO
The International Civil Aviation Organization is the United Nations’ global aviation authority tasked with providing international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) in collaboration with its 193 member states. ICAO recently released an official Airport Module which provides specific guidance for the reopening of airports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:
Cleaning and Disinfection of Airport Terminals
ICAO requires all airport terminals to have a written, regularly updated plan for enhanced cleaning and disinfection approved by the airport health authority, airport operators, and service providers that is consistent with the WHO Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation. Cleaning and disinfection of terminal surfaces, equipment, and areas should be done regularly. Cleaning and disinfecting supplies must also be regularly stocked.
Physical Distancing Protocols
Physical distancing standards must be consistent with recommended protocols for urban commuting which is at least 1 meter (6 feet). Passengers are also required to wear masks so long as they do not cause a shortage for frontline healthcare workers.
The appropriate PPE and health screenings must be provided to staff, and scheduling must be updated to ensure that only the minimum workforce required to cover shifts are present. Work stations must be restructured so that physical distancing protocols can be followed. Use physical barriers between staff and passengers whenever possible to minimize physical contact.
Airport Terminal Access
Only airport staff, passengers, and necessary accompanying persons where passengers suffer from disabilities or are unaccompanied minors are allowed to enter airport terminals. This reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission by making physical distancing easier.
Tips to Prevent COVID-19 Transmissions in the Airline Industry
Currently, some airports remain operational by cutting more than half of their original flight capacity to practice social distancing. While no cure exists for COVID-19, airports that are currently operational, as well as those who are about to reopen, need to implement precautions in order to minimize the chances of transmission amidst operations. Below are some tips on how airlines can minimize the the chances of COVID-19 transmissions in airline operation:
Thorough sanitation of airport facilities, equipment, and aircrafts
Before reopening an airport, the entire facility, especially high-touch surfaces and high-occupancy areas, must be thoroughly sanitized. These surfaces and areas must first be washed with soap and warm water, before being sanitized with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 gallon of clean water. Afterwards, let the surfaces and areas air dry. Examples of high-touch surfaces and high-occupancy areas are:
- Ticket counters
- Information counters
- Waiting areas
- Security check
- Observation deck
- Control towers
- Stores and restaurants in the terminal (tables, utensils, etc.)
- Baggage check-in
- Baggage carousel/baggage claim area
- Airplane seats and tray tables
- Cabin crew sleeping quarters
When wiping surfaces and areas, it’s best to use disposable cloths to avoid cross-contamination. If you are using alcohol for sanitation, ensure that it is at least 70% solution in order to kill off most viruses.
Subject all employees to COVID-19 testing before allowing them to work
Airline operators can protect the safety of employees and the customers who will interact with them by subjecting their workforce to COVID-19 testing before allowing them to report for work. Aside from being highly-transmissible, some COVID-19 infections are also known to be asymptomatic, which means a medical test is the only full-proof method of knowing whether a person is carrying the coronavirus. Employees that test positive should not be allowed to return to work and must be admitted ASAP.
Encourage employees to follow best practices against the spread of COVID-19 even outside of work
Prior to reopening, employers can arrange a video conference with workers and encourage them to follow best practices such as practicing social distancing, regular hand-washing and sanitizing, as well as adhering to quarantine initiatives in order to minimize their chances of contracting the disease on and off work. Reinforcing the importance of teamwork in preventing the spread of COVID-19 is vital to keeping both workers and customers safe.
Enforce strict medical clearance requirements before allowing entry
Require flyers to submit updated medical clearance certificates as proof of their good health. As an added measure, encourage customers through email newsletters, SMS, and website posts to limit instances of leaving their homes, especially between the time of their medical test up to their flight date to minimize their chances of contracting COVID-19.
Provide masks and other PPEs to workers and customers
As an added safety measure, distribute cloth masks to workers and customers. While face masks offer only minimal protection to healthy people, they generally do a better job of preventing unknowing carriers from spreading the virus. Even if airports implement strict medical clearance requirements before allowing passengers and workers to set foot in the airport, distributing face masks as an added safety measure helps lower the chances of transmission in airports.
Modify areas and protocols to improve safety standards against COVID-19
Set up additional hand-washing and sanitizing stations, putting adequate distance in between each one to ensure social distancing is still practiced. Put transparent screens in between employees and customers, and set up tape markers on floors to ensure that a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) is maintained in between customers in queues.
Promote online alternatives such as online ticketing and check-ins over manual methods
Not only do these methods help streamline the overall customer experience, they’re also good for eliminating unnecessary physical interaction between customers and employees; keeping with social distancing practices.
Ensure a safer airport reopening with iAuditor’s digital checklists
While there is no certainty when a cure for COVID-19 will become available, the best we can do is to flatten the curve. We have prepared ready-to-use checklists that airports can use as they prepare to reopen in the midst of the pandemic.
Disclaimer: Please note that these checklists are hypothetical examples and provide basic information only. They are not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should also seek professional advice to determine if the use of such checklists are permissible in your workplace or jurisdiction.
Featured Airport Reopening Checklists
COVID-19 Safety Assessment Checklist
This COVID-19 Safety Assessment Checklist can be used by airport officers to further screen workers and customers before they are allowed to enter the premises. Check if the person has experienced flu-like symptoms in the last 30 days, if they are considered an “essential worker”, and if they have recently come in contact with a known COVID-19 patient.
Facilities Reopening Readiness Checklist
This Facilities Reopening Readiness checklist can be used by facility managers to perform facilities readiness assessments for reopening after a lockdown. It can help ensure that the facilities system are functional and policies are up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safe return of employees and customers.