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Air travel after the coronavirus: What to expect

May 19, 2020

Air travel in the EU seems increasingly within reach. The German Airport Association has published a list of measures it hopes will keep passengers safe — and keep flights in the air.

Passengers with protective face masks, gloves and other measures as seen at Istanbul Airport on March 18, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey, during the Covid-19 crisis.
Image: picture-alliance/N. Economou

Coronavirus travel restrictions are slowly being lifted around Europe, and with the possibility of air travel picking back up in the near future, the German Airport Association (ADV) has published a guideline laying out hygiene measures airports intend to follow in order to reduce the risk that passengers and employees will become infected while traveling by plane. 

Compared to April and May last year, passenger volume in Germany was down 99%, the association said. 

"What is important is the signal to travelers and politicians that the airports are prepared and are taking all necessary measures," the guide said.

The guideline, published on the ADV website on Tuesday, consists of a list of recommendations drawn up and backed by experts from all ADV airports in cooperation with airport medical professionals.

Passengers of a flight to Nur-Sultan sit inside a plane before take-off at Almaty International Airport, Kazakhstan May 1, 2020.
Kazakhstan's Air Astana returned to the skies in a limited capacity this monthImage: Reuters/Almaty International Airport/Y. Sergienko

Read more:  Social-distance flying the new normal?

Increased mask requirements

The 17-page document contains recommendations for coronavirus health and safety measures for all key areas of the airport, including check-in, boarding and disembarking, transfers, and border control, among others. 

According to the guideline, travelers at all airports in Germany will be required to wear face masks at check-in, while waiting to board and while boarding, at border control, and at baggage claim. Currently, only the states of Bavaria, Berlin, Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony require travelers to wear face masks in all parts of the airport. Other federal states have thus far only required masks at security checks and when dropping off baggage. 

In order to ensure more distance between individuals, airports will provide a greater number of check-in counters as well as more buses for transporting travelers from the airport terminal to the plane. Seating in waiting areas will be blocked off and passengers must keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) between each other while waiting in lines.

At border controls, passengers will be encouraged to remove their face masks (allowing officers to see their full face) before stepping up to control counters in order to avoid slowing down lines. Fingerprint scanners will also be disinfected at an increased rate. 

Airports will decide on an individual basis how to carry out and enforce the new standards, for example through the use of security cameras or police surveillance. 

Flughafen nach Corona-Lockerungen - Passengers with protective face masks, gloves and other measures as seen at Istanbul Airport on March 18, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey, during the Covid-19 crisis.
As early as mid-March, the faces of airports the world over (Istanbul, in this case) were already beginning to changeImage: picture-alliance/N. Economou


Read more:  Coronavirus: How are Germany's biggest airports coping?

Running at half capacity

With the recommended health and security criteria in place, the association said it expected airports initially to serve between 20% and 50% off their normal capacity. 

The extraordinary measures are temporary and will be adjusted according to passenger volume. "The goal is a gradual normalization of air travel," the release said.

"All travelers should know that they aren't exposed to a greater infection risk than they are in any public transportation or tram," said ADV managing director Ralph Beisel. "At the same time, every person is called up to do their part and to follow the hygiene and social distancing regulations."

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Kristie Pladson
Kristie Pladson Business reporter, editor and moderator with a focus on technology and German economy.@bizzyjourno