If you thought air travel was a sh*t experience before we started living in a pandemic, then you’re about to long for the days of TSA frisks, delayed flights, and slow Uber drivers who you inevitably blame for you missing your flight because you didn’t have the good sense to leave five minutes early. Once you’re feeling brave enough and have a good reason to risk jumping on a plane again, be prepared to wait as much as four hours before you actually get to board your flight due to the additional screening procedures and security measures that are already in place at airports across the country in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Don’t expect to kill that extra time grabbing a drink at an airport bar either, those probably won’t be open. Instead, you’ll spend those extra four hours waiting around and trying to avoid getting close to other people until you’re on the plane. Not easily done at an airport.
According to airline marketing consulting firm, Simpliflying, travelers should expect a scenario where they arrive at least four hours in advance of their departure to give themselves an adequate amount of time to go through additional screening procedures, possibly being shuttled through disinfectant tunnels, and having to wait for routine cleanings of frequently touched surfaces. Passengers may also have to endure what is known as “bingo boarding,” a process where individuals are let onto an airplane by seat number rather than the section in an effort to avoid crowding and pileups. Considering people don’t even wait for their zone to be called to start boarding, this experience sounds like it may cause some frustrations.
Fox Business reports that the TSA has started implementing new rules to keep people the recommended six feet apart, and will relax rules on expired licenses until October 1st, and allow passengers to bring 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer on board, as well as provide additional PPE to those who request it. While those tweaks may add time to the experience, they absolutely sound like logical, common-sense initiatives, considering the information we currently have.
For international travel, the situation may be even more extreme. According to The Points Guy when Hong Kong-based journalist Laurel Chor documented her experience at the Hong Kong International Airport on May 14th, she was subjected to a lengthy screening process that took eight full hours. Detailing the experience on Twitter, Chor explained that she had to fill out a quarantine order and good-health declaration, download a tracking app, and receive a COVID-19 test, as well as report her method of transportation home.
I’ve landed in Hong Kong after flying from Paris CDG, via London Heathrow. I now have to wait ~8 hours before I get my #COVID19 test results and thus have ample time to tweet about my experience. pic.twitter.com/jCDPuwrTzL
— Laurel Chor (@laurelchor) May 14, 2020
Despite testing negative, Chor was still subject to a 14-day quarantine in her home before she’d be allowed to enter public life in Hong Kong. Breaking quarantine could result in a fine of $3,225 and six months in prison.
Forbes found that 9 out of 10 travel experts surveyed agreed that turnaround times between flights will increase due to thorough cabin cleanings and sanitary measures and expect the use of digital technologies and automated services to increase throughout the airport experience. Future air travel will likely include the use of facial recognition during the boarding process, which is already used in some US airports, as well as the use of immunity passports once a vaccine is available. Major airlines are also considering disinfection tunnels with the use of UV light or sanitary solutions, as well as on-the-spot blood tests, mandatory self-check-in, self bag-drop-off, and the end of lounges.