Coronavirus: What global travel may look like ahead of a vaccine

A woman wearing a face mask sunbathes on the beach amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in California, 25 April 2020Image copyright
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Possible ways of distancing people at beaches could include separating bathers with plexiglass

Sun loungers separated by plexiglass. Blood tests and sanitiser spray-downs before flights. These might sound extreme, but they are real measures some in the travel industry are looking at to keep holidaymakers feeling safe and comfortable in a post-lockdown world.

It’s too early to say when international travel might restart again – Argentina, for example, has extended flight bans until September and a UK minister has said he won’t be booking a summer holiday anytime soon.

But what will overseas trips look like when they’re able to be taken again?

Here’s what you might expect.

The airport

Many airports, including in London, have already introduced measures to cater for essential travellers based on government guidelines – so they might sound familiar.

These include between one and two-metre distancing at all times (excluding people who live together), hand sanitisers distributed throughout the airport and efforts to spread passengers more evenly across terminals.

In the US, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) says travellers should wash their hands for 20 seconds – in accordance with official guidelines – before and after the security screening process.

But, at Hong Kong International Airport, testing is under way on a full-body disinfectant device. This, the airport says, can sanitise users within 40 seconds, using sprays that kill bacteria and viruses on skin and clothing.

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Hong Kong International Airport is testing a “full-body disinfection” device

The airport is also trialling autonomous cleaning robots that move around killing microbes by zapping them with ultraviolet light. Similar robots have been tested in makeshift hospital rooms.

Airports that have electronic check-in kiosks are encouraging passengers to use them where possible to avoid unnecessary interaction.

Most will display posters that explain guidance measures and instructions throughout their buildings.

James Thornton, chief executive of Intrepid travel group, says the process of passing through airports is likely to take longer because of stricter checks.

“Just as taking out liquids and devices before going through machines has become the norm, so too will new social distancing guidelines,” he says, adding: “It’s possible we’ll see the introduction of an immunity passport.”

Earlier this year, several airports announced they were introducing “thermal detection screening” in efforts to prevent the further spread of the virus overseas.

However, the procedure divided experts on its effectiveness, as some people are said to be asymptomatic, and many airports will not be introducing it.

Some have gone further, though, with Emirates offering passengers rapid Covid-19 blood tests prior to boarding at Dubai airport terminals. Emirates says the tests produce results within 10 minutes.

On the plane

As you take your seat, you’ll have to picture the usual smiles from the flight attendants, who will most likely be wearing masks.

You might choose to smile back, but you’ll probably be wearing one, too – as more and more countries recommend their use.

Your mind, meanwhile, should be at ease in the knowledge that most major airlines will have stepped up their cleaning and sanitation procedures, leaving your tray table, seat rest and safety belt suitably disinfected.

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The cabin of a domestic US Delta flight between Minneapolis and Baltimore on 25 April 2020

If yo

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