Flying amid coronavirus: Iris scans, health declarations and in-flight face masks

New health guidelines to help restart safe air travel were recommended by a UN agency

The International Civil Aviation Organisation have published a series of health recommendations for a pandemic-hit airline industry as it relaunches air travel. Courtesy Ken Yam
Powered by automated translation

Travel in the future could routinely involve iris scans, health certificates and multiple temperature scans if new guidelines approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation are followed.

The UN agency has released a set of guidelines for flying after Covid-19. The report was written by the Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) in collaboration with other UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Among the proposed guidelines, travellers must wear masks at all times, keep their distance when travelling through airports and have their temperatures scanned regularly.

At airports, all travellers will need to present a health certificate to authorities and have their temperatures scanned before being allowed to check-in.

At airports, travellers must wear masks, have temperatures scanned and socially distance by at least one metre throughout the terminal. Courtesy Dubai Airports

Security lines are to be reconfigured to ensure less physical contact between travellers, which could mean very lengthy queue formations. Automated gates and mobile scanners’ to read boarding passes are recommended and travellers could be allowed to carry more than 100ml of approved health-related liquids and gels.

All passengers will need to wear face masks as they journey through airports where physical distancing measures of at least one metre are recommended.

The guidelines are not mandatory, but they have the support of airlines and the IATA. "We look forward to working with governments for a well-co-ordinated systematic implementation that will enable flights to resume, borders to open and quarantine measures to be lifted,” said Alexandre de Juniac, head of IATA, in a statement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations, officers take biometric photos of passengers prior to boarding a flight at Houston International Airport on February 12, 2018. 

Photographer: Donna Burton

A key element of the report recommends more automation and technology across the travel industry. Measures suggested include touch-free bathroom equipment, self-cleaning screens at check-in points, electronic visa forms and self-service bag-drops that are activated by iris scans.

Rapid testing for Covid-19 when it becomes available is also recommended, as are separate baggage carousels for travellers arriving from countries deemed high-risk.

No middle-seat social distancing

The report does not recommend that middle seats are left empty but advises airlines to spread out passengers where loads allow it. 

Leaving the middle seat empty for social distancing purposes is not recommended in the report. The agency notes this is not financially sustainable for airlines. However, guidelines advise that airlines should allow for separated seating arrangements when loads allow.

On flights, the report advises that passengers must wear masks at all times and should not move around cabins once airborne to decrease the number of people that they come into contact with. It also suggests that airlines offer pre-packaged meals to reduce contact time between crew and travellers.

The agency has advised urgent implementation of the guidelines to allow aviation to restart while lowering the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus during travel.