(Image: AAP/Darren England)

Just like schools and beauty salons, aircraft are now one of those magical places where the need for social distancing does not apply.

The Qantas “Fly Well” program measures tell us that aircraft seats act as a natural barrier to the spread of COVID-19. That’s a phrase that our bus and train operators should look to borrow. 

So, assuming that the seats will work their magic, what other changes can we expect?

At the terminal  

Unfortunately, social distancing still applies at check-in and departure gates. This has led Qantas to encourage the use of contactless check-in, which may mean that the only staff member that you will be able to find will be hidden behind a plastic screen. And isn’t the best form of encouragement necessity? 

Phrases like “enhanced cleaning” are littered throughout the Qantas announcement. So much so that it makes me curious about whether we may have trouble complying with social distancing for all the cleaners that will be wiping up our filth.

Hand sanitising stations will also be installed around terminals so try not to spill any of that alcohol-based cleaner on your boarding pass in case it scrubs off that bar code.

A good option to escape the masses in the terminal has always been to retreat to the safety of a lounge. Even here, you may find that capacity is reduced, and even if you can get inside the food and drink offering will be changing.

After a long day at work those alcohol-based hand sanitising stations might start to look like a good idea…

On board

As you do that semi-sideways crab walk down the narrow aisle to your seat, you will find that your aircraft has been freshly cleaned.

This may come as a surprise to those of us who have found random napkins, blankets and damp patches on the seats of our aircraft in the past so be prepared for the shock.

You will also be presented with a hygiene pack containing a face mask and sanitary wipes. Here is where the airline industry disagrees with other advice.

Qantas recommends that all customers wear a face mask. I’m assuming that this must be due to the altitude playing havoc with the way COVID-19 is transmitted or some other science-y explanation.

There is a one-in-three chance that you may be allocated a middle seat. Now here is where the etiquette of safer travel becomes cloudy. There is still no guideline as to who has the right to lean on the armrests that surround the centre seat. Maybe that’s where the sanitising wipes will come in handy.

Then you can clean the sweaty arms of the people on either side before you start rubbing elbows to secure a few precious millimetres.  A number of airlines around the world are not using the middle seat (that included Qantas up until this announcement) so our national carrier is bucking the trend.

The food and beverage service is where the airline has really achieved the impossible. It is simplifying it. After my last trip where I ate from a cardboard box containing what was possibly another cardboard box, I thought this was as simple as anyone could possibly get.

Now they have exceeded my expectations.  

Of course, state borders remain closed so our next flight may still be some time off. But it never hurts to be prepared. Especially since the act of flying involves sitting for an extended period in a long metal tube close to a lot of other people.   

Will you be resuming air-travel? Are airlines jumping the gun? Let us know your thoughts by emailing [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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