Earthly worries about a return to the skies

SINGAPORE, 22 April 2020: Nex month airlines such as the AirAsia Group will reintroduce domestic flights in Southeast Asia but gaining travellers’ confidence will be a formidable challenge.

How will health authorities establish a safe environment to restart land and air transport without triggering second wave infections? That’s the million-dollar question.

Social distancing becomes impractical for tour buses and airlines and removing seats would force transport operators to increase fares substantially. Airlines might consider removing the middle seats, but that creates a distance of no more than 50 cm, rather than the safety of 2 metres required by health authorities.

Airline experts are looking at a comprehensive testing option at airports before check-in begins. To cater to the testing process airport terminals would have to undergo major refits in areas where space is already limited.

But the tests that are available in the market right now are too costly, complicated and time-consuming.  Waiting times for the test results are impractical. It might require checking-in for a flight three to four hours ahead of departure to accommodate all the pre-boarding requirements.

Travellers might also a baulk at having to pay around USD100 for a pre-check-in test procedure on top of the airfare?  Then there is the uncertainty attached to a pre-flight test that could send us back home on a technicality, or even worse to hospital identified with a wrist band “Covid-19 positive”. Not exactly what we planned for our first travel experience in the so-call new norm era. Business travellers may learn to live with the test-and-travel inconvenience. A flight number quarantines us; herds into a regimented group of passengers who are fit-to-fly clinically clean of Covid-19. That’s a far cry from the romance of air travel we enjoyed in the past.

“Batch TG407 ready for despatch to Singapore ready for boarding; no later comers or last-minute duty shoppers dashing for the gate. An orderly regiment transfers from check-in counters to aircraft cabin with no diversions allowed to avoid contamination.

Perhaps younger travellers (20s to 30s) will accept the inconvenience claiming it injects an element of adventure at an otherwise dull airport. As for the rest of us, we might decide to take raincheck until a vaccine arrives?