We could soon find armies of cleaning robots patrolling airport grounds, disinfecting check-in counters and ticket kiosks. We could see passengers blowing through security and baggage checkpoints without touching anything.
And we could get on planes in which hand gestures and eye movements open overhead storage compartments and navigate on our on-board screens.
Everything could become contactless. Take off your bespoke uniforms in the astronaut-style Anti-Covid 1
Most of these concepts are attempts, but could soon turn into realities that are as ubiquitous as the biometric gates and body scanners we are used to at airport terminals.
From the cloud to the clouds
What will the points of contact on this trip look like when we move back from the virtual world of zoom meetings and houseparty chats to the sky – and when could things get going?
“I expect and I think many of our customers expect this to be largely behind us sometime in 2021,” said Alex Dichter, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, to CNN Travel.
Dichter points to strict measures that have been implemented in China and that require the validation of the Covid 19 freedom of travelers. A system is used in which passengers travel with a QR code that is either green, yellow or red. Green means that they have been tested and are virus free. The authorities know exactly where the passengers were.
“You have to scan in and out at every location, your temperature is checked several times, you sign forms. It is difficult to imagine that such processes will be implemented in the West.”
However, data and tracking are key to our return to heaven.
Poet suspects that some countries will focus on this. Therefore, logs must be created so that the airline can contact any other passenger on the plane if a passenger tests Covid 19 positive after a flight.
“Airlines will take this opportunity to speed up self-service. This is a trend that has been going on for some time, but airlines have probably scaled these technologies down more slowly than many customers would like,” he says.
Until these new technologies are fully implemented, passengers returning to the air may have to make do with what is already out there.
Dichter therefore says: “The focus may be a little more on premium products in order to give people the opportunity to be alone” – a long-standing wish of the tired business traveler.
In the longer term, the financial shock that airlines face in connection with customer price sensitivity could take us back to a world where airlines take things away and become slimmer to lower prices.
“If we look at the state of the industry in 2022, 2023 and 2024, the big question of what air travel looks like will have more to do with the economic consequences than with the virus,” says Dichter.
Passport, boarding pass, mask
Qatar Airways has launched PSA suits for its crew.
Courtesy of Qatar Airways
In the new era of flight, we can assume that personal protective equipment (PPE) is an integral part of the passenger experience as airlines begin to demand – and not demand – their use.
The European airlines Lufthansa, Air France and KLM have prescribed the wearing of masks for passengers and crew members. Delta, United, American Airlines and JetBlue have introduced similar measures in the United States. Air Canada has required its use since April 20th.
In Asia, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia and Cathay Pacific have also prescribed masks.
Qatar Airways in the Middle East is one of several airlines that are introducing PSA suits for their cabin crew in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Passengers will wear masks at least for the whole of 2020,” said Federico Heitz, CEO of Kaelis, an airline shipboard manufacturer that provides PPE for crew and passengers to more than 20 airlines.
Heitz informs CNN Travel that there is high demand for its self-protecting pocket bag (SP.3), which contains a mask, gloves, hand disinfectant, alcohol wipes and an information brochure with tips on preventing the spread of the virus. The bag can be customized to the airline’s branding.
“I assume that this will be like the new equipment kits for a long time,” says Heitz.
“What will happen in five years depends on whether you find a vaccine and how the virus develops. At the moment, we definitely need protection.” But who bears the costs?
“This is public health. In my opinion, it should be made available to everyone free of charge,” says Heitz. “Wearing a mask is not just about protecting yourself, but also about how you can protect other passengers.”
A clean health certificate
While airport terminals remain mostly dreary, initiatives are underway to check the passenger health preflight and ensure that the airports are scrupulously clean.
Various technologies are currently in the test phase.
That includes A contactless voice activated kiosk to monitor the temperature, heart rate and breathing rate of passengers before check-in. It is being developed in collaboration between Etihad Airways and the Australian company Elenium Automation and tested at Abu Dhabi Airport.
According to Jörg Oppermann from Etihad, the technology is an early warning indicator that can be used to identify symptoms that can be assessed by medical experts to prevent further infection.
The system automatically interrupts the self-service check-in or the bag-drop process if the vital functions of a passenger indicate possible symptoms of illness.
“We believe that this will be helpful not only in the current Covid-19 outbreak, but also in the future when assessing a passenger’s ability to travel and thus minimizing disruptions,” says Oppermann.
Inside, passengers and airport personnel undergo a temperature test before entering a closed channel for a 40-second disinfection process using the technologies “photocatalyst” and “nanoneedles”.
Another HKIA initiative applies invisible antimicrobial coatings that destroy germs, bacteria and viruses to touch-sensitive surfaces in the terminal, such as kiosks, counters and trolleys.
Hong Kong Airport is also testing autonomous intelligent sterilization robots equipped with ultraviolet light sterilizers that roam the airport and disinfect passenger facilities.
“Experimenting with UV light, cleaning robots, and other technologies at a number of airports is part of an attempt to minimize the distance required to maintain passenger throughput at airports,” said Cristiano Ceccato, director of Zaha Hadid Architects, designer of the recently opened Daxing Beijing airport.
“Otherwise,” he told CNN Travel, “you need a bigger airport to keep people apart.”
For the very long term future, Ceccato is considering a possible scenario in which passengers have injected a type of chip into their arms that continuously monitors their health, in the “Star Trek” style. A beep sounds when it is determined that you are infected with something.
“We are not there yet. And then of course there are ethical questions about people’s privacy and violations of civil liberties. We used to joke that today the airport is basically an airport mixed with a shopping center. Now it could Airport to be mixed with a hospital. “
In the short term, Ceccato assumes that airports could have some kind of high-tech arch through which passengers walk to search for metals, liquids, and gels, and also checks passengers’ health.
“The stuff is on the way, but we don’t know exactly when it will happen. A lot of ideas for this kind of technology are related to profiling people,” he says.
Another motivation for introducing security and health technologies at airports is to speed up the flow of passengers through the terminal’s checkpoints by reducing human-to-human contact or the contact between passengers and conveyor belts and trays for security.
“After all, you don’t have to worry about getting your laptop and washbag out of your hand luggage at airports, and you don’t have to deal with the security guard who sorts through your belongings,” says Ceccato.
While architects are figuring out how to adapt the airports to accommodate all of the additional new healthcare and hygiene technologies, Ceccato says that “after all these preflight checks, it could be comforting for passengers to know that their health is in.” Order is a good figure. “
The main focus for air travel is the interior of the aircraft, and here there has traditionally been a longer interaction between the passenger and cabin surfaces – seating, on-board entertainment systems, toilets and other furniture.
“There is likely to be a future for a gesture-based trash can where passengers don’t have to touch the handle, just wave their hands to raise or lower the door,” said Devin Liddell, Teague chief futurist, Seattle-based design consultant, who have designed the Dreamliner cabin and the interior of every Boeing airliner since the 1940s.
The other area where Liddell believes airlines will focus on restoring passenger confidence will be the use of antimicrobial surfaces.
“It’s going to be a big deal,” says Liddell. “I think airlines that only announce the cleanliness of their aircraft and the processes by which they clean the aircraft are seen in both the short and long term, and the promotion of advanced systems that remove viruses from the air.”
When touching things in the cabin becomes bad etiquette, in-flight entertainment system developers need to develop new approaches.
“At some point we will see user interfaces based on eye movement tracking when it comes to the in-flight entertainment system, so there is no need to touch the IFE system at all,” said Liddell.
Longer-term ways to improve the experience on board are to rethink the layout of the passenger cabin.
“In the Post-Covid-19 world, airlines have to be smarter in zoning the cabin, and various airlines have tinkered with child-free zones, etc.,” Liddell says.
One of the biggest challenges in the cabin will be onboard catering. In the early days of the virus, carriers stopped serving food to minimize the need for the crew to walk up and down the aisles. Liddell sees opportunities for robotics and automation in the cabin to take on many of the catering tasks.
“The galley wagon in particular is so strange in the sense that it blocks the aisle and makes part of the plane inaccessible while eating.”
“There is a way for gait robots to bring you groceries, maybe if you want to, or if the airline decides that they will give it to you,” he says.
Ultimately, whether the passengers feel safe enough to fly to the sky depends on consumer confidence and the feeling of the passengers, whether the airlines take due account of their concerns about Covid-19 and its effects on air traffic.
To assess this, the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the International Flight Services Association commissioned data consultant Fethr, Black Swan Data’s aerospace wing, to assess passenger mood.
Using data analytics and predictive analytics, Fethr analyzed more than 900 million naturally occurring conversations on Twitter, news, blogs and reviews about Covid-19 and air travel.
“Over a third of the conversations that are currently taking place on board the aircraft related to safety and hygiene are very negative,” Will Cooper, Insights Director at Fethr, told CNN Travel.
“Passengers express concern and frustration at not knowing whether travel is safe or how to protect themselves, and are unsure of what airlines are doing.”
Perhaps one of the longest trips airlines are facing today is restoring passenger confidence.
Paul Sillers is an aviation journalist who specializes in passenger experience and future air travel technology. Follow him at @paulsillers