New rules for post-coronavirus air travel are announced

Anyone flying will have to follow a number of rules to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading via air travel, according to guidelines that have been issued to airports and airlines by the EU’s air safety body.

Such rules include passengers having to wear masks for the duration of their journey, saying goodbye to loved ones outside the terminal and interview booth assessments of people showing signs of Covid-19. The sale of duty-free items will also be banned in terminals and on flights.

The rules were laid out in 28-pages of guidelines issued by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and published on its website.  

The measures, that will dramatically change the way people travel by air, are expected to be adopted by all EU member states, with the UK likely to implement similar rules.

A man has his temperature screened at London’s Heathrow Airport in a trial of equipment that could be used by airports to enable air travel in the coming months

The guidelines have been met with relief from airlines, who have said that they are positive step towards allowing international travel and tourism this summer after they were forced to ground huge numbers of planes due to the pandemic.

Since leaving the EU on January 31, the UK has no influence of EASA policy, and has had no input in putting the guidelines together, but does remain a member until the end of the year.

However, the Civil Aviation Authority is reportedly putting together a similar set of guidelines for British airlines and airports that will generally follow those published by the EU. 

‘The safety of passengers and crews has always been paramount in aviation,’ European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean said in a statement released by EASA, explaining the rationale behind the guidelines.

‘Passengers have to have confidence that taking to the skies again in a confined space with other people poses the minimum possible risk to their health. 

‘We relied on our specialists from EASA and ECDC to define a set of concrete measures for the safe resumption of air travel within the EU. The protocol released today will reassure passengers that it is safe for them to fly and so help the industry recover from the effects of this pandemic,’ she added. 

A woman operates a screening machine as passengers are tested for Covid-19 symptoms as they have their temperatures taken at Manchester Airport on May 11

What is included in the new EASA rules? 

Under the new measures from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), anyone who is not travelling or working in an airport will be not be allowed inside the terminal, meaning people will have to say goodbye to loved ones outside.

Once inside, travellers will also be expected to take precautions, such as wearing face masks and washing hands, and to follow ‘respiratory etiquette’ – covering the face when sneezing or coughing. Anyone who does not follow the rules risks being kicked out of the airport.

They should also observe physical distancing measures by keeping 1.5 meters away from others, with floor markings placed to show people where to stand.

In a photo issued by Heathrow, a member of staff at the airport hands out face masks during an operations test, May 21

However, John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, pointed out that a queue for a jumbo jet would be 1 kilometer long if the 1.5 meter distance were observed.

In the event that such distancing measures are not possible, the EASA rules state that the airport should increase other measures, such as hand hygiene. 

The EASA has said airports should arrange interview booths for anyone who is found to have a temperature above 38C when screened, but acknowledged that temperature is not a particularly effective metric to spot the virus with, and therefore booths would act more as a deterrent.  

Other measures at airports will include all staff wearing protective face masks, and giving them to any passengers who do not have one, as well as adding plastic screens at check desks and security check areas.

All security staff will be wearing masks, and could also be wearing face shields when performing body checks. 

Hand luggage rules could become even stricter in a bid to reduce boarding time and the risk of infection at gates, and passengers could be offered incentives to take less with them on flights, such as discounted rates for storing baggage in the hold. 

Signs at London, Heathrow inform travellers of temperature checks being trialed as part of a programme looking at technology that could be used to limit the transmission of coronavirus

The numbers of other methods of transport involved in air travel, such as buses to and from the aircraft, should be increased, the EASA has recommended, in order to reduce overcrowding.

On-board, aircraft would be disinfected between all flights, and the EU body has asked for airlines to upgrade air filtration systems to clean the air in the cabin.

Passengers will be required to wear masks on the flight, and should be discarded every four hours, meaning on longer flights people will have to swap out their masks for new ones.

In order to reduce the number of people using the on-board toilets and therefore queuing in the isles, the EASA has recommended that food and rink services are reduced, with no duty-free sales on the flight.

Upon arrival, passengers could be subject to thermal screening, and airlines have been asked to provide health authorities with a ‘passenger locator card’ if requested for contact tracing purposes, which would give details of the passengers name, seat number and contact details. 

The EASA rules do not include a quarantine period for arrivals or the use of immunity passports.

EasyJet has said that it will resume some flights from June 15, with passengers required to wear face masks on board the aircraft. It will also suspend the sale of food and drink and provide disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser.  

At first, the budget airline will reopen domestic routes between 22 European airports, including Gatwick, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast. 

‘We are a pan-European airline and we look closely towards their guidance to make sure we follow the correct procedures across our network,’ said David Morgan, Easyjet’s director of flight operations.

EasyJet, one of Europe’s largest airlines that grounded its entire fleet on March 30 due to the spread of Covid-19, has welcomed the new measures released by the EASA

Morgan said that Easyjet had been working closely with the EASA and added that aircraft would be disinfected each day with treatments that can remain on hard surfaces for a day, adding that cabin systems were capable of filtering out 99.8 per cent of air contaminants.

Ryanair also reacted positively to the news. Europe’s largest airline plans to resume flights from June 1, and said that the measures would allow for Europe’s tourism industry to restart in July and August.

The airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary, who has previously been an outspoken critique of some measures proposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, such as a quarantine period for travellers entering into countries, again called on Irish and UK governments to abandon quarantine restrictions. 

‘We call again on the Irish and UK governments to abandon their unexplainable, ineffective, and unimplementable quarantine restrictions,’ he said. 

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