As I write this, we are five months plus into the COVID-19 saga. As you already know, it has had a devastating impact on a number of business sectors, with the airlines being among the hardest hit. In response to the virus as well as the concerns of the passengers, there have been some changes, and there is a chance that some of these—if not all—will become permanent changes.
First and foremost is the way the airplanes are cleaned. Prior to COVID, the concept of an electrostatic sprayer was totally foreign to travel. Now, it is quickly becoming commonplace. In addition, more deep cleaning is taking place when the planes aren’t flying. A recent change implemented for at least two airlines calls for running the auxiliary power unit (APU) on the ground more than was the previous practice. The aircraft all have HEPA filters, and the onboard air conditioning system can cycle the air from the whole plane in a matter of minutes. The conditioned air from the jetway isn’t HEPA-filtered, although that may well change in the future as well, especially as the fuel bills for the APUs mount.
Currently, employees are subjected to daily temperature checks, and some are even expected to take their own thermometers to work in order to self-administer daily temperature checks. Chances are that this practice will go away in time, but for now, it is part of the new normal.
Due to the severe decrease in flying, aircraft are being rotated in and out of storage. Airplanes are designed to fly, and sitting doesn’t do them any good. While it is possible to catch up on any lingering maintenance issues, flying is the best maintenance of all. Not every plane in every fleet will get used, but rotating them in and out of service can keep more of them flying and ease the transition back to normal operations as demand returns.
Food service has changed as well. There are no cooked meals or any meals that require personal handling such as salads or fruit. Currently, pre-packaged snacks are the only option for most passengers, and this isn’t likely to change until there is a reasonable degree of certainty that we have reached herd immunity or widespread use of a vaccine.
The most obvious change is the requirement to wear masks. Airline employees are currently expected and required to wear masks pretty much whenever they are in uniform or on the clock. This is both for the protection of the employee and those they interact with, as well as a way to encourage passengers to wear theirs. I’m sure the mask requirement will eventually ease, but I would not be surprised if there is a requirement to have a mask handy to use in case someone shows signs of illness, even if it’s just a cold. In addition to the masks, more and more plexiglass dividers are showing up, but those may or may not remain later.
The new normal in the future will likely consist of at least the enhanced cleanings, and possibly some changes in air filtration systems. All of this will be reflected in the price of tickets, but it will all be in the name of safety. This will be especially true as scientists and doctors get more and more data about the behavior of the coronavirus. All we can do is wait and see.