Air travel resumption will require social distancing, says EU

April 24, 2020 - 6:26 PM
Filipinos from Wuhan
Filipinos, voluntarily evacuated due to the coronavirus outbreak, board a plane from Wuhan, Hubei, China, Feb. 9, 2020. (DFA/Handout)

BRUSSELS— The European Commission will next month present a set of rules for the safe reopening of air travel when coronavirus pandemic lockdowns end, including social distancing in airports and planes, the EU’s transport chief said on Wednesday.

Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said that some social distancing rules in airports and planes will have to be respected to guarantee the safety of passengers, adding that measures under consideration would include the wearing of face masks and disinfection of planes and airports.

“All this should be part of those guidelines and probably by mid-May we can put forward this strategy we are working on,” Valean said on Twitter.

Airlines have raised concerns that measures to slow the spread of the pandemic could blight profitability long after travel restrictions end. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that the crisis could cost airlines a total of $314 billion.

Valean said she expects social distancing requirements to remain in place for as long as there is no COVID-19 treatment or vaccine.

“We expect the crisis to stay with us and the virus to stay with us,” she said.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA‘s director general, told Reuters on April 14 that conditions for a resumption of air travel are likely to include a requirement to leave the middle seat vacant on flights.

Such a measure could also help to head off a potential price war as airlines try to recoup market share as they emerge from the crisis.

Valean said it was not yet possible to say when the industry could resume operations.

“I cannot say right now when this is going to start happening because we have to listen to the advice of the health specialists,” she said. —Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine Editing by David Goodman