Temperature checks, masks the new normal for air travel, says Dubai airport CEO

May 15, 2020 - 11:47 AM
A passenger walks at Dubai International Airport, as Emirates airline resumed limited outbound passenger flights amid outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, UAE April 27, 2020. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo)

DUBAI — Temperature screening and face masks will become common sights at airports to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus but physical distancing could make flying more expensive, the head of Dubai airport said.

Around the world, governments, airports and airlines are considering temporary safety measures to restart air travel, including mandatory temperature checks, wearing face masks and keeping passengers apart.

“We are going to have to take whatever measures are necessary to protect the travelling public and our staff,” Chief Executive Paul Griffiths told Reuters.

Dubai International, one of the world’s busiest airports, suspended passenger services in late March as the United Arab Emirates took drastic measures to contain the virus.

The UAE has since allowed some repatriation flights and eased other restrictions in the Gulf state, though it is not clear when normal flights will restart.

Temporary safety measures should be expected as flights resume but Griffiths cautioned physical distancing rules would eventually limit growth as demand rebounds.

“We will not be able to operate at anything close to our original design capacity if we had to maintain social distancing,” he said.

Dubai airport, the hub of airline Emirates, was handling Airbus A380s with over 600 passengers before the virus forced the airport to halt flights.

Physical distancing could also increase airfares if airlines were restricted to selling fewer tickets in order to keep some seats empty, Griffiths said.

Fit to travel

But until there was a vaccine, treatment or reliable, quick method to detect the virus, measures that reduce the risk of contagion would need to be enforced, Griffiths said.

It is unclear when global travel will recover from the pandemic which has shattered demand and will partially depend on countries lifting their lockdowns.

Regaining public confidence in the safety of air travel is seen by the aviation industry as a significant challenge.

Countries that have the spread of the virus under control and agree to reopen their borders to each other are likely to drive air travel demand over the near term, Griffiths said, but it is impossible to say when travel could return to pre-pandemic levels.

Passenger traffic at Dubai airport fell by a fifth in the first quarter to 17.8 million as countries closed their borders due to the coronavirus outbreak. —Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Himani Sarkar