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Social Distance no Problem at Gatwick

After months of borders being closed and with the softening of some quarantine restrictions in many places worldwide, I decided to travel to Alicante, Spain to visit family and loved ones. The journey was completely different from what it was six months ago, and these changes may remain in place for the long term. By writing these lines I hope to help many travellers who are deciding whether or not to travel during these times.

I have made a review on three elements that are highly influential in every flight journey: the airlines, the airports and your input as a traveller.

The contribution of airlines

Airlines play a very important role. There is a large group of airlines which have reactivated its operations and are endeavouring all their resources in promoting the highest standards of safety to their passengers.

As part of these strategies, most commercial airlines have implemented in its planes a high-efficiency particulate air filtration system which is a special air mechanism that reduces up to 99.9% the airborne particles in the plane while renewing the complete air of the cabin in an average of 25 times per hour (around 2.5 minutes). These systems reduce to almost zero the possibility of transmission of the virus by air.

However, it is well known that the virus can be transmitted in many other ways, such as being sat next to an infected passenger, after an infected individual coughs or sneezes close to you or by touching a surface where the virus is reposing. Considering these scenarios, airlines are prioritising the safety of passengers over their profits and are reducing the percentage of occupancy of flights by leaving an empty middle seat in the three-seat layout accommodation or the aisle seat in smaller planes. Fewer people means lower exposure and more distance. In my flight with EasyJet, I was sat with an empty middle seat and only passengers who were travelling together were located close to each other.

Aligned to this, airlines are cleaning and disinfecting planes between flights and are avoiding the use of touch surfaces such as screens, offering disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer to passengers, suspending food and drink services, and removing literature in seatback pockets. Airlines are also improving the process of onboarding and disembarking and are asking travellers not to wait in the aisles for the toilets.

The contribution of airports

Although there is no single approach that could mitigate all risks, airports and airlines have come together to introduce new measures across the entire passenger journey, which reassures passengers that health and safety remain the top priority.

As soon as I arrived at Gatwick Airport, I could smell the peculiar disinfectant scent and I could see that all surfaces were sparkly clean. The number of people was considerably reduced and there were different measures on place promoting social distancing.

Some precautions include touchless kiosks, frequent cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, self-removal of personal items during security checks, and plexiglass shields in front of traveller-facing employees, from gate agents to shop cashiers. At the security checks, longer queues enable to keep a safe distance and everyone must wear a face covering.

Some airports have also introduced further measures like providing prevention recommendation messages to travellers, temperature screenings at exit or entry and health declarations at arrival, with travellers’ contact details which allow a thorough risk assessment and a possible contact tracing of incoming travellers.

Nonetheless, the WHO recommends that temperature screening alone is not an effective way to stop international spread since infected individuals may be in the incubation period, may not express any symptoms or may dissimulate fever symptoms using antipyretics. Therefore, only a few airports have introduced this, as such measures require substantial investments that may not prove very effective.

Your contribution as a passenger.

As a passenger, I can say that all of us in the airport and on the flight were following all the recommendations set out.

Some of the most important travel recommendations set out by governments and experts include:

  • Frequently disinfecting your hands with alcohol-based hand rubs;

  • Wiping down your entire seating area with disinfectant wipes;

  • Wearing a face covering;

  • Avoid touching mouth and nose;

  • Avoiding the busiest times and routes; and

  • Keeping a safe distance of at least one metre when possible.

In general, I felt safe during the journey. It was very interesting to see how all of us, airlines, airports and travellers were aligned and committed to stopping the outbreak and travel safety. With the continuity of these strategies, we can improve and revolutionise the safety of travel.

Finally, I just want to mention that the decision of travelling also depends on many other factors such as the infection rates at your destination, the measures your destination is having in place and your current health status. Flying is not the only source of transmission, it is just a small part of our regular habits and I feel it should not be seen as a hazardous activity any different to shopping, exercising or socialising in public spaces.

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