Travelling through an airport in times of Covid-19 is a different experience: many airports still have shuttered terminals and are continually adapting procedures to meet government guidance

27 August, 2020

During Apr-2020 and May-2020 when pretty much all countries around the world were in lockdown, very few flights were operating so a lot of airports shuttered terminals and concourses in order to cut costs and consolidate airlines and passengers into smaller areas. Since then as countries have gradually opened up and people have started to fly again, a many of those areas have begun to open once more.

However a huge number of airports, particularly the larger ones, have kept areas closed because the number of flights and passengers is still a long way from being 'normal'. This means if you are used to flying to or from a certain airport your next visit may be very different. Not just new processes but perhaps a whole new terminal environment.

Not only have airports shut complete terminals but they have introduced PCR testing areas, health screening and generally created more space for ease of passenger flow and to ensure passengers can practice safe distance.

From the very minute you enter an airport it will feel different. To start with only ticketed passengers are permitted to enter, with exceptions made for unaccompanied minors and anyone needing assistance. Face masks are essential. Many airports have temperature screening on entry, others have a disinfection tunnel.

Check-in and bag drop will be entirely touchless. Some airports have introduced biometric check-in so that your face will become your passport and ticket. Checked luggage is likely to be disinfected as it travels towards the aircraft. Taped areas and floor markings help to keep passengers apart with some airports even offering appointment times for a passenger to go through security to stop long queues forming. However with passenger numbers down at the moment there are likely to be much shorter queues everywhere.

There will be a lot of plexiglass in sight, wherever you need to talk to airport staff and at outlets. Many airports will feature robots prowling around the concourses to help you check-in, guide you to the right area or even to disinfect areas.

CHART - Global air capacity had started to recover from the floor it hit in late Apr-2020 and early May-2020 as travel restrictions hit the industry hard. After an initial stabilisation stage we had until this month seen continued steps of recovery, now a plateauing is perhaps becoming more evidentSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 24-Aug-2020)

A brief look around at some of the world's airports and many still have terminals shuttered. London Heathrow Airport has continued to operate only from Terminals 2 and 5 so airlines have been shifted around. Singapore is also operating out of just two terminals, T1 and T3. Paris CDG has closed two concourses and Paris Orly is operating from just T1 and T3. London Gatwick has shut the South Terminal so all flights operate from North. New York JFK has closed Terminal 7 and Frankfurt has all flights operating from T1, with T2 closed until further notice.

Manchester Airport is an interesting example that perhaps highlight the problems airport faces in terms of providing resources to meet uncertain demand. The biggest airport in the north of England had closed its T2 when the UK was in lockdown, but reopened the facility to support a resurgence in demand when border restrictions were lifted and Brits took the opportunity to take-off again, predominantly on leisure trips to the Mediterranean. It has now revealed that it will be closing it again from 2-Sep-2020 to reflect changing travel patterns.

The examples above are just a few of the many terminal closures and changes that are happening regularly so it really is important to check before setting out. Then there are whole car parks that are shut with more alternative passenger drop off areas.

Boarding aircraft has become more streamlined with many boarding by seat numbers and in smaller groups. It's likely that those pre-boarding areas which were always packed as we waited for the flight to be ready, will be a thing of the past. But it will be impossible to keep a widebody full of passengers distanced, or any line would likely stretch for over a kilometre.

On arrival some airports such as Dubai International have 'smart tunnels' which speeds up the immigration process using biometrics. Technology will increasingly be used in all aspects of the travellers' journey as airports and airlines fast track systems that were only in testing phase just a few months ago.

We all need to get used to this new way of travelling which is likely to be with us for some time, if not forever. Now that we have faced this pandemic and know what needs to be done, the industry has to make permanent changes in order to keep us safe so that we don't get hit quite as hard the next time.