Airports around the country are ghostly quiet right now, and we don’t quite know when we’ll be hopping on board again soon. For the time being, we can keep dreaming, start planning regional trips… and take solace in the fact that airlines are taking increased hygiene precautions.
Jetstar announced new Fly Well measures this week that could point to a new normal for many Australian and international airlines. The measures include pre-flight and onboard safety and hygiene measures conducted by airline staff as well as some adjustments for you as a passenger.
Pre-flight there will be contactless check-in via the airline app or your phone, plus contactless scanning of boarding passes. From June, the airline hopes to have hand sanitising stations set up throughout terminals and eventually installed at departure gates where possible.
Onboard the plane, the airline is committing to “enhanced” cleaning with disinfectants effective against coronaviruses. Staff will be focussing on high-contact areas, so things like seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets will get thorough cleans. In China, regulations are in place that mean toilets must be cleaned in-flight after being used by ten passengers (or every two hours).
It's likely we will see modified inflight catering, too, in order to minimise touchpoints for crew and passengers. Some airlines are already implementing this by only handing out bottled water and packaged food.
Jetstar will also be providing all customers with masks on each flight. The airline says wearing a mask is “not mandatory from a safety point of view, but recommended". There is also the option of bringing your own if you’d rather do that. From June, Jetstar will also be making sanitising wipes available to passengers so they can wipe down their own seats, trays and armrests to channel their best Naomi Campbell. (Who’s laughing now, hey Naomi!)
But getting an airborne virus while stuck in a small enclosed space, surrounded by strangers and being fed recycled air is quite concerning. Jetstar says the air-conditioning systems of all aircraft are already fitted with hospital-grade HEPA filters, which "remove 99.9 per cent of all particles, including viruses". The air inside the cabin is refreshed every few minutes so it's "highest possible quality of cabin air".
Some airlines have begun spreading out available seats so that there is an empty seat barrier between passengers. Jetstar hasn’t changed the configuration of its aircraft just yet, stating that the “seats and galley act as a natural barrier, and people are not seated face-to-face”. Passengers will, however, be asked to limit their movement around the cabin once seated.
Non-essential travel is still restricted over the country, so we’re still waiting in anxious hope that we’ll be able to fly again soon. To where? Well, that’s a whole other question – especially since New Zealand might be off the cards for a little while longer.
If you’re interested, you can read more about Jetstar’s Fly Well program here.