Easa unveils safety rules for post-lockdown flying

Flying post-lockdown will be transformed by Covid-19 safety requirements for airlines and airports, with draft guidance issued by the EU Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) last week.

Easa protocols will shape standard practice across Europe, with airport access limited to passengers, crew and staff, except for those providing assistance; airports and airlines required “to avoid queueing as much as practicable”; passengers advised “to minimise use of airport facilities”; and the opening of airport shops and restaurants limited.

The Easa guidance rules out so-called “immunity passports” for passengers tested for Covid-19 as “not supported by scientific knowledge”. But it requires airlines add “a health-monitoring questionnaire to online check-in” and modify hand luggage, seat allocation and boarding practices.

Easa recommends face masks be worn by “all passengers and persons in the airport” except at security checks and border control, with passengers reminded to “ensure a sufficient supply of masks” for an entire journey, given masks should be replaced every four hours.

Passengers should “minimise” their hand luggage, with no more than one cabin bag allowed. Easa recommends “incentive policies to promote carriage of luggage in cargo”.

It states: “Airlines and airport operators should . . . ensure physical distancing at all times, especially during check-in, security check, pre‑boarding and boarding.” Where this is not possible, it calls for “additional risk mitigation”.

Where buses are used for boarding, Easa recommends using more buses “to accommodate distancing”. Where passengers board by a bridge, it recommends “boarding by rows, starting with the farthest from the aircraft doors”.

On board, airlines should “avoid passengers queueing”, “reduce service to the minimum” and require passengers “remain seated”.

Airlines should also “ensure physical distancing, to the extent possible”, other than for families and members of the same household travelling together, and modify seat allocation “accordingly”.

Passengers who fail to act as requested should “be refused access to the airport terminal, refused boarding or disembarked”.

Carriers should complete a “passenger locator card” before landing to aid contact tracing and isolate any passenger showing symptoms of Covid-19.

Easa discounts thermal screening of travellers’ temperatures, already introduced at some airports and being trialled at Heathrow, as “not effective or efficient in detecting Covid-19”.

It notes: “Many symptomatic persons do not have fever; fever can be easily treated with medication; a large percentage of transmission occurs by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases; and it [screening] may give a false impression of safety.”

Easa also notes: “Face masks in airports should be considered only as a complementary measure and not as a replacement for established preventive measures, for example physical distancing.”

It recommends physical distancing be maintained “wherever operationally feasible”, including on flights.

The UK government has said it will operate outside of Easa after leaving the EU in January 2021, meaning the UK is likely to confirm protocols of its own. However, these are expected to mimic Easa guidelines to avoid further disruption.

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