Can International flights resume with adequate precautions?
As many countries including India are mulling over the opening up of international travel, evidence points to flying being much safer than thought before.
On May 25, India resumed domestic airline services after a gap of two months, with strict social distancing, constant sanitisation, contact-less check-in, etc. But almost a month since, there is no word on when international flights might be in the air again. Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said that the government might consider allowing flights on a case-to-case basis like, for example, flights to and from North America that is greatly in demand.
The Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said resuming of services depended on other countries opening up as well and there being two-way traffic. In the absence of this, India will continue carrying out evacuation and repatriation operations “under managed and controlled conditions”.
As lockdowns are being lifted around the world, international air travel is expected to resume slowly. There is a lot of research and innovation going into how to make this a safe experience for everyone. The World Health Organisation has said that transmission of infection may occur if they are in the same area of the aircraft as the infected individual’s cough or sneeze or touch. The aircraft ventilation system also has a very important role to play.
IATA has realised guidelines recommending passengers to wear a mask for the entire duration, from the time of entry into the airport to time of exit at the destination airport. It maintains that the risk of contracting the infection is lower on an airplane than in other public spaces like malls or offices because of the lack of face-to-face contact, physical barriers provided by seat and the fact that cabin air is changed frequently. This has been demonstrated in a recent report in India that tracked the number of domestic air travel passengers who tested positive between May 25 and June 15. Only 0.03 per cent of passengers were found positive once they were checked after arriving at their respective states i.e 341 passengers out of 12.4 lakh people who travelled during that time. While there is no way to say if these people were infected on the flights, the numbers prove that flights journeys are safe even with middle seats occupied.