Thursday, June 11, 2020

The New World of Air Travel and the Immunity Passport

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to have a long-term impact on air travel.  As it stands, the 2 metre or 6 foot spacing rule simply cannot be implemented on board the flying aluminum tubes that are the global means of air travel.  The International Air Travel Association or IATA recently released this publication:

...which provides its partner airlines with a roadmap for restarting aviation, one industry that has been decimated by the global lockdown and government-created fear.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the document:

"Almost every challenge in aviation requires a team effort to solve it. Today we face the biggest challenge in commercial aviation’s history: restarting an industry that largely has ceased to operate across borders, while ensuring that it is not a meaningful vector for the spread of COVID-19.

Meeting this challenge will mean making significant changes across the arc of the air travel experience: pre-flight; at the departure airport; onboard; and post-flight.

1.)  It will require governments to assume broad new responsibilities in terms of assessing and identifying traveler health risks, as governments did for security after 9.11.

2.)  Airlines and airports will need to introduce and adapt processes and procedures to minimize contagion risk in the airport and aircraft environments;

3.)  Passengers will need to be empowered to take more control of their travel journey, including responsibly assessing their own level of health risk before a journey." (my bold)

Here are the guidelines that the roadmap is based on:

"1.)  All measures should be outcome based, supported by scientific evidence and a robust fact-based risk assessment;

2.)  Health screening measures should be introduced as upstream as possible, to minimize risk of contagion in the airport environment and assure that most passengers arrive at the airport ready to travel. Any measures that need to be applied during the travel process should be applied prior to departure rather than on arrival;

3.)  Collaboration is vital:

‒ Among governments to implement internationally consistent, mutually accepted measures is essential to restoring air connectivity and passenger confidence in air travel;

‒ Between governments and industry, particularly to ensure the practicable development and implementation of operational measures.

4.)  Measures should only be in place for as long as deemed necessary; all measures should be re-evaluated under a fixed schedule. When more effective and less disruptive measures become available, they should be implemented at the earliest opportunity and defunct measures removed;

5.)  Existing roles and responsibilities of governments, airlines and airports should be respected in implementing the response to COVID-19."

Here is the first of IATA's key recommendations for departing passengers prior to flight:

"We foresee the need to collect more detailed passenger contact information which can be used for tracing purposes.

Where possible, the data should be collected in electronic form, and in advance of the passenger arriving at the airport including through eVisa and electronic travel authorization platforms.

IATA strongly recommends that states set up government internet portals in order to collect the required passenger data. Using internet-based technology would allow the use of a wide range of devices for the data capture (computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.)." (my bolds)

This fits right into the narrative that we will all be required to possess digital immunity "documents" and electronic tracking software so that our every move prior to flying becomes the property of the government responsible for collecting contact tracing data and disseminating it to airlines.

Here are some other recommendations:

1.) airport terminal access is limited to workers, travellers and persons accompanying minors or passengers with disabilities.

2.) temperature screening of all passengers should be implemented at all entry points to terminals.

3.) physical distancing needs to be implemented with a range of 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 metres).

4.) IATA recommends the use of face coverings for all passengers and suitable PPE for airline and airport staff.

5.) sanitizing of the airport facility should take place on a regular basis, particularly high touch items like baggage carts, e-gates, self-service kiosks, fingerprint readers and used medical mask disposal containers.

6.) when COVID-19 rapid results testing is available, all passengers and airport staff should be screened to ensure that the airport environment is "sterile".

Here is the second of IATA's key recommendations:

"In principle, we believe that immunity passports could play an important role in further facilitating the restart of air travel. If a passenger could be documented as having recovered from COVID-19 and thus as being immune, they would not need protective measures such as face cover, temperature checks, etc., during the travel process. However, the medical evidence regarding immunity from COVID-19 is still inconclusive, so immunity passports are not currently supported. At such time as the medical evidence supports the possibility of an immunity passport, we believe it is essential that a recognized global standard be introduced, and that corresponding documents be made available electronically." (my bolds)

Here are the recommendations for arriving passengers:

1.) Non-intrusive mass temperature screening needs to take place, keeping in mind that social distancing needs to be maintained.

2.) governments should consider the use of mobile applications and QR codes to minimize human-to-human contact during border and customs control formalities.  As well, IATA suggests that governments should consider the used of passport chips and facial recognition to simplify border control formalities.

3.) baggage claim needs to take place quickly to allow for physical distancing

4.) passengers that are transferring from one flight to another should be able to do so without being re-screened, reducing the queuing process.

Here is the conclusion of the report:

"There is currently no single measure that can mitigate all the bio-safety risks of restarting air travel. However, we believe that implementing the above-mentioned range of measures that are already possible represents the most effective way of balancing risk mitigation with the need to unlock economies and to enable travel in the immediate term.

As further clarity is achieved in terms of additional measures such as effective COVID-19 testing and immunity, new measures can be incorporated into the passenger process to further mitigate the risks and further build confidence in air travel, thus taking us further on the journey towards a resumption of ‘normal’ operations."

As you can imagine, implementing IATA's recommendations will be extremely costly in terms of capital (new equipment) and human (more staff) costs that will have to be passed along to the travelling public, particularly given the extended period of dramatically reduced airline business earnings since March 2020.  As well, given what happened to our flying experience after the events of September 11, 2001, we can pretty much assure ourselves that flying will not only be more expensive, but it will be a much less pleasant experience than it already is and the government will have far more information about us than is any of their business.

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