We have become used to traveling freely in an open world, but with COVID-19, borders add a layer of uncertainty that may hamper aviation for years to come.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the airline industry has understandably focused on measures that mitigate virus transmission risks in airports and aircraft. However, the role of travel as a facilitator of the spread of a virus may be a larger obstacle and one that the aviation industry can control less.
Europe’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control released a set of travel guidelines in late May to provide a common framework for facilitating travel. They are pragmatic, reasonable guidelines that airlines can live with, such as encouraging hygiene, mask-wearing and keeping middle seats empty “where possible.”
However, the document also provides some sobering reading. It notes that none of the measures that could prevent infected passengers from traveling—such as “immunity passports” or pretravel/arrival testing—are either sufficiently effective or economical.
The document also highlights challenges of managing and coordinating case tracking across borders, considerations each country needs to make:
- What are standards for when to open/close borders?
- What is the level of cases? Are they trending up or down?
- What are the accepted approaches to measuring cases?
- What would be the effects on the local health system if there is a local outbreak?
- How can case- and contact-tracking information be coordinated while maintaining privacy?
While keeping safe control over all this, governments also must try to stay agile to accommodate travelers and the travel industry. The result is borders opening soon, perhaps a bit later or closing on short notice, all in line with fluctuating local case trends. Neither airlines nor passengers are ready to cope with this extra layer of uncertainty.