Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar have announced a series of new health and safety guidelines as the carriers prepare to resume domestic flights when travel restrictions ease.
As part of the new ‘Fly Well’ program, the airlines will be giving passengers face masks on all of their flights, but won’t make wearing them mandatory, unlike other carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates.
The Australian carriers’ new measures do not include leaving seats empty between passengers, a measure some airlines are taking to encourage social distancing.
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we’re putting place will reduce the risk even further,”said Qantas Group Medical Director Ian Hosegood in a statement posted on the carrier’s website.
“The data shows that actual risk of catching Coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low. That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier. As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport,” added Hosegood.
The carriers’ stance on social distancing echoes the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) view that social distancing is not necessary to keep passengers safe on aircraft. The global aviation body recently said social distancing measures would lead to dramatic cost increases in air travel.
Other major international carriers such as Air New Zealand, Emirates, American Airlines and Japan Airlines have said that they have blocked middle seats on all or some of their flights in an effort minimise contact between passengers in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Qantas’ new measures, which are set to roll out on June 12, include the following:
- Qantas said it will send information to all customers before they fly, so they know what to expect.
- Contactless check-in (via online/app) and self-serve bag drop will be “strongly encouraged”.
- There will be hand sanitising stations at departure gates.
- Temporary changes to Qantas Lounges, including “increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations, “enhanced” disinfection of surfaces and “adjustments to food and drink service”.
- Qantas said it is working with airports on other safeguards in the terminal, including “regular disinfection” of security screening points and installing hygiene screens at airline customer service desks “wherever practical”.
- Masks provided to all passengers on each flight – while “not mandatory from a safety point of view”, they are recommended to be worn in the “interests of everyone’s peace-of-mind”.
- “Enhanced cleaning” with a focus on seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets.
- Sanitising wipes given to all passengers.
- Simplified service and catering to “minimise touch-points for crew and passengers”.
- Once seated, passengers will be asked to limit movement around cabin.
- There will be sequenced boarding and disembarkation to “minimise crowding”.
The carriers are also encouraging passengers to download the Australian government’s CovidSafe app and “anyone with cold and flu like symptoms should stay at home”.
The Fly Well program will be reviewed after its first month of operation and “shaped by customer feedback and medical advice”, Qantas said.