According to ARGUS TRAQPak data, North American air travel is down 15.0%, and European flights are down 11.6% from October 2019. The effect of the global pandemic has created new concerns for the industry. Passengers worry about contracting COVID-19 in flight. Travel bans and quarantine rules also make travel planning difficult.
Around the world, aviation professionals are experimenting with various strategies to make flying safer to ease passenger fears and comply with government regulations. The United Nations is leading talks to set international travel guidelines.
With no end in sight to the pandemic, the decline in flights will deter tourism and business travel as they try to return to normal activity. One method gaining traction is to have pre-flight COVID-19 testing for all passengers.
A significant factor keeping people from air travel is the fear they will be seated next to someone with COVID-19, according to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). While flying helped spread the virus around the world. Initially, airplanes have not been responsible for super-spreader events as social gatherings have been.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), viruses do not spread easily on flights due to filtered air circulation on airplanes. However, social distancing is impossible on crowded flights, which concerns travelers. Sitting within six feet of others for hours on a flight increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.
As international travel resumes, many countries around the world are trying to contain the spread of the virus by enacting safety regulations for visitors. Passengers are reluctant to fly into a location where they are required to quarantine for up to two weeks after their arrival.
Travel Testing Requirements
One way to avoid quarantine is for travelers to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test before boarding. Many countries worldwide currently require visitors to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or submit to a health check on arrival to enter the country.
On October 15, Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program began. It requires passengers five and older to take a molecular diagnostic test from a certified laboratory within 72 hours of arrival and provide a negative result. IATA has called for rapid, accurate, and scalable testing for all passengers. The expected outcome of testing all passengers is it will give people the confidence to travel.
For this process to revive the travel industry, uniform standards between US states and other countries are needed. Pre-flight testing must be performed on both ends of a trip for this system to succeed. A standard of which tests are required and when they must be taken is also needed. According to the CDC, discussions continue internationally to consider the risks, determine a realistic testing system for air travel, and agree on standards for testing globally.
IATA has suggested that pre-flight testing solutions will be available in the coming weeks. Medical expert opinions are not as optimistic. Tests must be accurate, timely, and readily available to travelers before their flights. Not only must US state governments and foreign countries agree on which tests are accepted and when they are administered, but results must be certified while protecting the privacy of passenger medical information.
Secure, Private, Portable Records
While pre-flight COVID-19 testing in airports or before boarding may soon be feasible for large airlines, smaller aviation operations are on their own to protect their passengers and crew’s health. Enhanced cleaning procedures and crew isolation may not be enough to convince a wary public that air travel is safe. Testing options are needed for passengers who travel by charter or private plane.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ARGUS’ parent company SGS has created AOKPass. AOKpass is a mobile application that uses leading-edge blockchain technology to allow users to verify their health status while keeping records confidential. This technology is built upon three core principles – privacy, security, and portability. This enables users to present the required test results without ever losing control of their medical information. AOKpass was designed to adapt to emerging rules, medical discoveries, and best practices as they develop.
In September, The World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and AOKpass announced an official partnership to support global efforts to safely revive international travel. Under the agreement, the three organizations will support a system to rebuild passenger confidence, which has been heavily impacted by COVID-19.
Travelers can already use AOKpass to easily and securely verify the COVID-19 test results, which are required for entry by many countries. The use of AOKPass will also ensure passengers that they are not at risk of contracting the virus from others on the aircraft. Through the app’s use, passengers can avoid mandated quarantines by quickly providing their medical records before and after the flight. With this secure and portable option, airline operations can provide their passengers the peace of mind they need to travel again.