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The COVID-19 crisis has had a major impact on several industries across the United States, and the commercial aviation industry is no different. According to a recent report published by SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing agency, the changes made in travel preparation by the commercial aviation industry during the COVID-19 crisis will most likely be permanent.

The report, “The Rise of Sanitised Travel,” analyzed over 70 different areas in today’s travel preparation that have been altered to restore passenger confidence in flying during and after COVID-19.

“[September 11, 2001] changed travel completely with added security checks and longer check-in times,” said Shashank Nigam, SimpliFlying’s CEO. “The impact of COVID-19 on air travel will be even more far-reaching.”

What can passengers expect after COVID-19?

Many of the technologies listed below are already in the process of being tested in airports as air travel opens up to more passengers in the upcoming weeks and months. SimpliFlying predicts that the tested tech could become a permanent fixture of travel preparation in airports as early as later this year.

“Getting large numbers of people flying again will depend on giving them the peace of mind that they won’t be rubbing shoulders, or bumping elbows in Economy, with infectious fellow travelers,” said Nigam.

Some of the tested technologies for travel preparation that could be put into place during or after COVID-19 include:

  • In-flight professional cleaners. Professional cleaners are one of the many essential workers in the U.S. that have been necessary for keeping airports and facilities sanitized and disinfected. SimpliFlying suggests that we may now expect to see professional cleaners aboard planes to ensure the cabin is kept clean throughout the flight just as we saw Sky Marshalls on planes after 9/11.
  • Touchless check-in terminals. The airline Abu Dhabi is reportedly testing touchless check-in kiosks capable of scanning passengers for basic health. The kiosks can direct passengers to further screening if they appear to have a fever or breathing difficulties. Depending on the passenger’s health conditions, they may be recommended to see on-site doctors or be transferred to an urgent care center or the emergency room. Check-ins using codes and voice commands may also potentially be seen in the future.
  • Touchless cabins. A sanitation section is expected to be added to the in-flight safety video. Hand sanitizer may be provided during the flight every 30 minutes. Passengers may be asked to wipe down their own seats using wipes handed out by the safety crew. While it’s unlikely that passengers will be required to continue to wear protective safety gear after COVID-19, passengers are currently being asked to wear masks and gloves during the duration of their flight. Seats may be chosen by agents rather than passengers to optimize in-flight distancing.
  • Bag sanitizing. Bags and luggage may be sanitized and disinfected as a part of travel preparation in the near future. Bags will be expected to pass through fogging, electrostatic, or UV-disinfection processes.
  • Disinfection tunnels. Prior to boarding the flight, passengers may be asked to pass through thermal scanners and disinfection tunnels. Disinfection tunnels are currently being tested for airline use in Hong Kong. Existing seating in gate areas are currently closed off to ensure physical distancing, but could be opened up in the future with additional changes.
  • Transport Health Authority (THA). While there isn’t currently a Transport Health Authority, SimpliFlying predicts that a global association could soon be created to ensure global airlines adhere to health guidelines.

These new changes could lead to longer wait times at the airport. Currently, airlines recommend that passengers get to the airport about three hours prior to their flight to ensure they have enough time for check-in, security, bag-check, and more. In the future of flying after COVID-19, those wait times could extend up to four hours.

Low-cost airlines could get hit hard after COVID-19, Nigam says. Airplanes will most likely undergo a deep clean after each flight, which could put pressure on flight turnaround times. Quick turnaround times have typically allowed low-cost airlines to keep utilization up and costs down.

“Enhanced cleaning regimes could spell the end of the 30-minute turnaround, upon which many low-cost carriers base much of their business model,” said Nigam.

But flying isn’t the only method of travel that could be permanently changed by the new coronavirus. Your next road trip could look significantly different, too.

Is traveling by car safer than air travel?

Safety is a priority for all travelers and will remain so after the COVID-19 crisis. To travel while maintaining social distancing rules, many people are increasingly looking at car trips rather than flights for their vacation plans.

According to a recent survey conducted between April 17-22 by MMGY Travel Intelligence in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, up to 47% of survey respondents said they would be more likely to travel by car than by plane. That’s an 8% increase since data was last collected between April 4-11.

Dr. Robert Winters, an infectious disease specialist from Southern California, says that traveling by car is safer than airline travel in terms of COVID-19. “If traveling with others in a car, one would assume you know the person that is sitting next to you and you know their health status,” said Winters. Traveling on a plane would require sitting next to others whose health status in terms of COVID-19 would be unknown.

“Car travel has to be safer than airline travel when you factor in controlled boarding/exiting processes, the number of people on the airplane, the unknown health status of people on the flight, uncooperative children sitting near you, etc,” said Winters.

However, just because you’re safer in a car than a plane concerning the new coronavirus doesn’t mean that you’re safer in general. Approximately 6 million car accidents happen on U.S. roads every year causing 3 million injuries. In 2019, an estimated 39,000 people died in automobile accidents, according to the National Safety Council. According to To70’s aviation review, airplane accidents caused 257 deaths that same year.

Staying safe while on the road during COVID-19

When you’re traveling on the road, you’re your own pilot. That means it’s essential to stay alert and wary of other drivers. Don’t assume that another driver knows what they’re doing. Follow the rules of the road.

You’re also relying on yourself for travel preparation while you’re on the road. When flying, a trained crew readies the plane for a safe flight. You’re your own crew when it comes to your vehicle. Regular maintenance and routine inspections are essential, especially when traveling long distances.

To help you stay safe while traveling on the road during the COVID-19 crisis, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Double-check state laws regarding travel. State laws regarding travel during the COVID-19 crisis differ, and it’s important to do your research to ensure you’re following those laws. Double-check to see if any of the states you’ll be traveling through have a self-quarantine in effect. While the federal law can’t keep you from traveling to a state, local authorities can require state residents to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.
  • Check the travel conditions of your destination. You also want to be sure that you’re not traveling to a COVID-19 hot spot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a map that shows COVID-19 hot spots across the country.
  • Check-in with your doctors. The American Automobile Association suggests checking in with your doctors and healthcare providers before you travel. This is especially recommended if you or any of the passengers you’re traveling with are older, having medical issues, or are immunocompromised in any way.
  • Keep masks and gloves on hand. Masks and gloves are crucial for all riders to travel with. Even if you’re not wearing them while driving, you’ll need them when you pump gas or make stops. Additional necessities include hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
  • Clean and disinfect your car before you travel. A key part of travel preparation when traveling during COVID-19 is disinfecting your vehicle. According to Sheryl Connelly, a global consumer trends specialist for Ford Motor Co., the steering wheel is four-times are dirty as a restroom. Make sure to clean floor mats, safety belts, door handles, and the fob you use to start your vehicle. However, when cleaning your floor mats and carpeting be sure not to use bleaching agents.
  • Pack snacks and drinks. You want to make as few stops as possible while traveling during COVID-19. The fewer people you come into contact with, the better. That being said, pack a cooler with drinks and snacks that won’t go back while you’re on the road. Aim for snacks that are high in protein to keep you fuller for a longer period of time.
  • Keep charging cords on hand. External batteries for electronic devices and charging cords are vital for travel preparation. Enable emergency calling on your navigation system as well if your vehicle has it.
  • Plan ahead of time. Now isn’t the time to have a grand road trip. You don’t want to wing your travel plans. Travel preparation is crucial, especially when planning for stops at hotels, restaurants, and rest areas. Call ahead to the destinations you plan to stop at and don’t rely on websites. According to travel broadcaster Bill Clevlen, restaurants and rest areas might not be open right now even if their website says they are. Many will be shut down or have different hours of operation than what’s listed on their site. This is especially true for businesses that relied on travel traffic for revenue.
  • Double-check refund policies. Make sure that the rental property or hotel that you’re booking has a good refund policy as a part of your travel preparation. Major hotels are typically reasonable when it comes to refunds, but you never want to assume that your lodging will have decent cancellation rules. Avoid booking hotels and rental properties through third-party or fourth-party websites, which can make it more difficult to get a refund should the hotel shut down or your travel plans change.
  • Service your vehicle before you hit the road. Another essential part of travel preparation during COVID-19 is servicing your vehicle before you get on the road. Check your wheel alignment, oil levels, and make a dent repair if necessary. Whether you’re making a road trip or moving, you want to make as few stops as possible.

Even if traveling isn’t on your to-do list right now, experts recommend starting your vehicle regularly throughout the COVID-19 crisis. AAA expects an increase in the number of vehicle breakdowns once states open back up and Americans return to work.

“The best thing you can do is to start your car,” said Donald Paxton, the director repair network for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “This will charge the battery, circulate the fluids, and enable you to check the dash for warning lights.”

Prior to traveling, be sure to take your vehicle out for a drive to identify any potential issues and to prevent other problems before they arise. Familiarize yourself with towing safety and be sure, if your vehicle does break down, that you maintain social distancing rules. Wear a mask and gloves and stand at least six feet apart from your tow servicer.

Be wary of rest stops while on the road

Rest stops are essential when you’re traveling for long periods of time, but using them during the COVID-19 crisis will take a little more travel preparation than usual. Call ahead to be sure that the rest stops you typically use or plan on using are open for business.

Stopping regularly throughout your trip isn’t recommended, but you do want to make some stops to avoid driving while drowsy. According to the National Safety Council, drowsy driving was responsible for over 100,000 car accidents in 2019 alone. There’s no harm in pulling over at a rest stop to take a nap in your car.

However, it’s inside the rest stop and in the bathrooms that you want to be careful. Make sure that you only use restrooms with soap and hot water, which are the major combatants against the coronavirus.

Consider keeping a bathroom kit of your own on you including a small bar of soap, paper towels, and a travel-size pack of toilet seat covers. Wash your hands both before and after you use the restroom to prevent spreading bacteria to your body and to others. Whether you’re traveling on the road or by plane, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions and travel preparations necessary to stay safe now and after COVID-19.

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