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Is this the future of travel? From blood tests during check-in to plastic booths around plane seats

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The only certainty is that the future of travel is uncertain. Some experts predict that things will not return to normal for two to three years, and that many companies will go out of business in the next six months.We hope this is not the case, but we’ll all have to get used to a whole…

The only certainty is that the future of travel is uncertain. 

Some experts predict that things will not return to normal for two to three years, and that many companies will go out of business in the next six months.

We hope this is not the case, but we’ll all have to get used to a whole new travel landscape once restrictions are lifted. So what will it look like? Here we explore some of the possibilities.

New rules at airports

At airports, passengers could see a speedier security process and have their bags ‘sani-tagged’

Heathrow Airport has closed one of its two runways and two of its terminals. Passenger numbers in March tumbled by 52 per cent year on year to 3.1 million, and the April figure is expected to be down a whopping 90 per cent or more on the usual figures. 

Meanwhile at Gatwick, 90 per cent of staff have been furloughed and authorities expect that it could take four years for passenger numbers to bounce back. BA this week even told staff that it may not return to Gatwick after the pandemic passes.

Other airports across the world have been scaling back, too, with global flight numbers falling by 59.8 per cent between December and April, according to travel analysts OAG. But there is some good news …

What could happen:

  • Queues for boarding with two-metre spacing. Passengers may be sent text messages calling them to gates to avoid crowding.
  • Earlier check-in times. Turning up four hours before flights could be commonplace.
  • Widespread Covid-19 testing of passengers. Already in Dubai, Emirates is carrying out blood tests. At Hong Kong International, tests with results taking up to 12 hours are in place. This week, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye called for the Government to set up a common international standard for aviation health screening.

 Passengers take blood tests before boarding an Emirates flight at Dubai Airport last month

  • Health certificates. Thai authorities already demand that documents showing visitors ‘pose no risk of being infected’ are issued no more than 72 hours before landing.
  • Insurance certificates could also come in; Thailand requires Covid-19 cover for up to £80,000.
  • Walkways to planes with ‘disinfectant tunnels’, in which passengers are checked and bags ‘sani-tagged’ after electrostatic cleansing or UV disinfection.
  • More facial recognition systems and fewer passport checks, which might make immigration faster.
  • More sophisticated security machines that do not require you to remove laptops or liquids.

What we think:

New procedures are likely to result in slower progress through airports to begin with, although turning up four hours before flights sounds excessive. Medical screenings and health certificates are possible.

There is a chance that, once systems are well established, which may take years, movements could be smoother than ever.

In the air

On planes, the middle seats could be left empty or reversed

At present, 64 per cent of the world’s passenger jets are grounded, which is nearly 17,000 planes.

This week, Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates European air traffic, showed flights in Britain were 91 per cent down on last year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warns that the airline industry worldwide is set to lose £250 billion this year, a 55 per cent annual drop with more than 25 million jobs at risk.

British Airways alone says as many as 12,000 employees may be made redundant, with 1,100 pilots due to go, and Ryanair has just announced 3,000 job cuts.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia and Air Mauritius have gone under, and now eyes are on Virgin Atlantic.

What could happen:

  • Fewer flights as airlines fail, resulting in higher fares.
  • Middle seats left empty, or filled but facing backwards.
  • Cabins with inflight dedicated cleaners, or ‘sani-janitors’.
  • Passenger face masks as standard, as already adopted by Lufthansa and Wizz Air.
  • Cabin crew wearing face masks and gloves.
  • Sanitising wipes handed out for free to passengers.
  • Seats with plastic ‘hoods’.

Seats with plastic hoods around them could become commonplace on flights 

  • No alcohol served on flights.
  • No hot meals. Instead, sandwich bags to avoid interaction.
  • Reductions on hand luggage allowances to stop people reaching over others to overhead bins.
  • Last few rows on the plane left empty for passengers with Covid-19 symptoms. China has already introduced this.

What we think:

Mandatory masks seem sensible. Pared down meals with sandwiches are likely. Planes will also be spotless. Social distancing by keeping middle seats empty will prove uneconomical and unhelpful, as keeping passengers two metres apart would require 26 economy seats per four passengers, say experts. Ticket prices would soar.

As it is, fares could rise above pre-crisis levels as airlines struggle: the ‘golden age’ of low-cost tickets may be over, although easyJet and Ryanair appear to have sufficient cash reserves to weather the storm.

It took three years for the industry to recover after the 2008 crash.

Back on track? 

Social distancing measures could be introduced in train corridors with passengers given alternate seats on long distance journeys

Trains are virtually empty due to lockdown, although they are still running to provide transport for key workers and volunteers.

Timetables have been reduced. Trainlines in the UK and in Europe — SNCF and Trenitalia — have been quick to offer refunds, according to thetrainline.com.

Franchised UK rail firms, such as Avanti West Coast and Great Western Railway, have been effectively nationalised by the Department for Transport until the autumn. Smaller UK operators, such as Hull Trains and Grand Central Rail, which are not receiving help, have suspended train services.

What could happen:

  • Passenger numbers could drop by up to a quarter, as fewer people move about post lockdown due to working from home.
  • Social distancing measures introduced in train corridors.
  • Those on commuter trains may still be in close contact.
  • Technology may be brought in to count passengers.
  • Face mask rules.
  • On long-distance trains, passengers may be given alternate seats.

What we think:

A requirement to wear masks is possible, but given the crowds on platforms and peak-hour passenger numbers, social distancing could prove impossible, say experts. Investment is needed for more trains, but isn’t it always?

On the high seas

To entice passengers back on cruises, health certificates may be required while more cleaning staff could be hired 

Before the coronavirus crisis, the worldwide cruise industry was booming. It was worth more than £93 billion annually, supporting 891,000 jobs, with more than 21 million passengers. Now the picture is quite different, with most ships moored and ports closed.

The story of passengers on the Diamond Princess quarantined in Yokohama in Japan in February did not help the industry’s image.

What could happen:

  • Enticing offers to lure passengers back to cruise ships.
  • Less choice of stops as countries introduce travel bans.
  • Checks before boarding and health certificates required.
  • On-board social distancing.
  • Buffets replaced by either a meal service or a canteen.
  • More space for medical rooms.

What we think:

Pre-boarding health checks or requirements for up-to-date health certificates seem inevitable. As on planes, expect a new breed of ‘sani-janitor’ cleaning staff.

Entry restrictions to some countries may make trips less varied. But bargains are expected, with trips departing from the UK and European river cruises both likely to be popular as they do not require flights.

Insurance impact 

Travel insurance premiums could be far higher, especially when the coronavirus is covered and applicants are elderly

Most travel insurance companies are no longer offering Covid-19 cover. Holidaymakers with existing policies may be covered, but they should check with their insurer.

Most insurers are not issuing any new policies — the handful that are, including Saga, Allianz Assistance and Columbus Direct, will not cover coronavirus. The industry expects 400,000 claims at a cost of £275 million from Covid-19 cancellations.

What could happen:

  • Far higher premiums, especially when the coronavirus is covered and applicants are elderly.
  • Difficulty finding insurance.

What we think:

Insurance companies will need to recoup losses. They may be wary of offering coronavirus cover until a vaccine is found. It may take some time for the travel insurance world to stabilise. This will be especially true after Brexit, when reciprocal cover within the EU goes.

Going abroad 

When going abroad on holiday, social distancing could become de rigueur across the globe 

Resorts around the world are empty, and no one knows how long it will be until tourism starts again.

What could happen:

  • Social distancing will become de rigueur across the globe, some have even suggested plastic booths at restaurants and on beaches for sunloungers and parasols.
  • Strict limits at attractions.
  • Phenomenon of ‘overtourism’ in the likes of Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik will abate.
  • Touristy cities will have much more of a ‘local feel’.
  • Some destinations may not want tourists.
  • Quarantine of 14 days for overseas visitors, effectively ending tourism in some places.

What we think:

There will be a bounce-back, eventually. 

Our hard-earned holidays are precious and the desire to explore the globe will be as strong as ever.

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