Its been one hell of a year! How many times have we said this in the last one year? Well, a year has flown by, and has left behind a whole lot of new normals. Its been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world, altering our lives in ways more than one. While schools, offices and normal life took a beating, travel died a slow death too. The pandemic has changed travel in a big way and now, there’s more than just tickets and luggage we need to consider while planning a trip.
From facemask to PCR test and quarantine rules, here are 7 ways in which the pandemic has changed travel.
1. Compulsory Facemask & PPE
Boarding a flight now comes with a new set of accessories- the facemask topping the list. The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce made facemarks compulsory for all travellers boarding any flight as well as when navigating through airports. However, children and elderly who suffer from chronic health issues are exempt from the rule.
In addition, Emirates and Etihad introduced hygiene kits for travellers containing face masks and hand sanitiser. Furthermore, DXB, now has new vending machines that dispense PPE kits, for travelers who need to pick up some last-minute supplies before boarding flights.
2. Changes In Food & Drinks On Board
The pandemic also brought with it major changes in the way airlines serve food and drinks. Gone are the days when crew members walked up and down the aisle, pleasantly asking for your choice of chicken or beef. Today, airlines have resorted to new ways to reduce crew-traveller interaction. Airlines now offer pre-packaged meal options, and have also scrapped some service elements altogether. In addition, other in-flight services like magazines or premium offerings such as shower spas and on-board lounges were also suspended. However, some of these services have now been reintroduced with upgraded hygiene measures.
3. PCR Test
Tickets and baggage are not the only things you need to sort for travel. PCR test is the new document you need irrespective of where you’re planning to fly. Travellers flying into many destinations, including the UAE, must now submit a negative PCR test result before being allowed to visit. The new rule is in place to curb the spread of the virus. Therefore, PCR tests and nasal swabs have become an important step in the travel process. The timings for when the test must be carried out vary with every destination, so be sure to check the latest rules prior to travel. Some airline have also partnered with testing clinics to offer travellers discounted rates on PCR tests when the purpose is for international travel.
4. Socially Distanced Seating On Planes
Online check-in was suspended earlier, so airlines could carefully pick and choose socially-distanced seats. Airlines are doing everything in their will to make air travel safe again. Right from launching digital boarding pass to providing free covid-19 cover, airlines are doing it all. Emirates Airline decided to take things to the next level by introducing a scheme- where Economy passengers can secure an empty row to themselves for a fee.
Economy Class passengers can book the empty seats by paying AED 200. However, the seats can’t be booked in advance and will be subject to availability, depending on how busy the flight is. The empty seats will be offered to all the confirmed flyers at the check-in desk, upon arrival, at the airport. Priced at AED 200, the tickets for these empty seats will go up to AED 600.
If you are considering to buy the empty seats, then you must know that one customer is allowed to book up to three seats in a row. So whether you are travelling solo or with friends and fam, you will get enough privacy to relax on the flight.
5. Quarantine Rules
Pre-pandemic all you had to sort was your travel itinerary – a hotel you must check into or a tourist attraction you must visit. However, the pandemic has changed this. Today, travel has become more about which countries are open for tourists and the quarantine rules that come with it. So, make sure you’re well aware of the travel and quarantine rules before you book your tickets.
6. Covid-19 Insurance
In addition to travel insurance, travellers now need a Covid-19 insurance – yet another by-product of the pandemic. Several airlines introduced Covid-19 travel insurance options in a bid to boost travel. For the first time, Emirates launched a free multi-risk travel insurance for customers, which will be added to the current covid-19 cover that the airline is offering at present.
The new policy will automatically apply to all Emirates tickets purchased from December 1. As per this addition, all the emirates flyers irrespective of their flying class will be covered while flying to any destination. What’s more? Well, the customers don’t have to fill in any forms or register before they travel.
Highlights of this new cover also include out-of-country emergency medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation of up to $500,000. It is valid for Covid-19 cases if the virus is contracted during the trip, as well as other medical emergencies. Besides this, the cover also includes up to $7,500 of trip cancellation cover for non-refundable costs. Under this, if the traveller or a relative is unable to travel after testing positive for covid-19 before the scheduled departure date, or for other specified reasons.
Well, that’s not it, if any passengers fail the covid-19 test or unable to provide the report at the airport, they will be eligible to receive up to $7,500. Passengers can also get $150 per day, for up to 14 consecutive days, if they test positive for Covid-19 and are placed into a mandatory quarantine outside their country of residence. On this, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates, said,
7. New-Age Travel
At a time when travel was shut, innovation was key. Airlines had to invent new ways to lure travellers and also assure them safety. This was when new inventions like self bag-drop stations, iris scanners and facial recognition software at check-in, were introduced.
For the first time ever, Etihad airlines launched a contactless covid screening system. The new technology screens Etihad passengers, identifying medically at-risk travellers. The technology helps in screening early stages of Covid-19. The system is currently being tried in Etihad’s hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The new system is designed by Australian company Elenium Automation, the system scans passengers’ heart rates, temperature and respiratory rates. The application uses thermal imagery, motion sensors and voice recognition. It also permits self-automated check-in and bag-drop facilities. In case a possible illness is detected, an alert is sent to the Etihad staff on-site or via teleconference, who will then take the necessary action.
Besides, the application will also ask a number of questions about what you have been doing over the past 14 days and if you have a cough. To this, travellers can reply with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Once all the questions are answered, the system will analyse the information.
If the passenger is given an ‘all clear’ signal, he can move and drop his bags. In case there are problems, Etihad’s staff will be notified and a secondary assessment will be conducted. The technology is currently in a trial phase and over the next few weeks Etihad will be trying it out with its guests.
However, Etihad warns that the system is not designed to detect any illness, but is only an indicator to identify people who could possibly be ill.