The year 2020 will forever go down in history as a year in which society has changed fundamentally. The events of this year, namely the COVID-19 epidemic, caused a lot of what we do as a society to change.
To protect as many human lives as possible from the life-threatening virus, world governments, and society as a whole, they established safety measures. Such measures include wearing a protective face mask, avoiding handshakes, embraces, and other activities that involve physical contact with others. Social distancing also prevents the spread of the virus from one person to another.
It is because of these restrictions that we now have to adapt and change the way we live. Celebrating life milestones like birthdays or anniversaries is now changed. How we conduct our businesses has changed. Travel is one of those aspects.
How COVID-19 Affected Travel
If you have traveled before, you should know that you are not always socially distanced from others. Whether you are in a cab, a bus, a train, or a plane, you are almost always close to another person. The social distancing precaution we all must take prevents us from traveling traditionally.
Cabs should have some protective barriers between the passenger and the driver. Buses and trains should not take as many passengers as their capacities allow them to provide enough space to maintain social distancing. As for air travel, it gets a little bit more complicated.
Air Travel Today
At the start of the epidemic, a lot of airlines canceled their flights left and right. There is just so much risk involved in letting a hundred people who came from who know where to get stuck in a tiny flying box for hours. Suppose the virus infects a single person on a plane. In that case, it is very likely to spread to the other passengers of the flight within those few hours, theoretically.
Several studies confirm that other viruses that do not vastly differ from the novel coronavirus can spread on planes. Other studies also found that sitting within two rows of an infected passenger for more than 8 hours poses the most significant risk.
Air travel is expensive. Airlines can't afford to make flights with only half of the plane filled, much less only 30% of it or lower. It is economically destructive unless airlines charge more, about which passengers will not be overly enthusiastic. Air travel during the COVID-19 era is near to impossible.
The danger of getting infected by the virus during flights is serious. But thanks to technology, it is possible.
The Use of Technology in Air Travel
There are pieces of technology developed in the past that make air travel safe in this COVID-19 era. There are two technological advancements made in the aerospace industry that are very useful in these dangerous times.
HEPA Filters and ECS
The aerospace industry has made such incredible progress in aircraft ventilation. The movement of particles as small as the virus is minimal. By using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, 99.97% of particles as little as 0.3 microns are caught and prevented from moving about the plane cabin. A micron is one-millionth of a meter. That is incredibly small. Even something as little as HEPA filters catch the coronavirus.
Aircraft are equipped with ECSs (environmental control system) to maintain a suitable temperature, pressure, humidity, ozone concentrations, and ventilation in the cabin. The ECS provides a 50:50 mixture of external and internal air.
The external air is sterile, safe, and particle-free if the plane is at cruising altitude. It enters through the environmental control system through the engine. So the only worry is about the air that is inside the cabin. The air inside the cabin is circulated 10 to 15 times per hour. During the recirculation process, it passes through the HEPA filters, cleaning and sterilizing it.
Airflow in Plane Cabins
Another significant factor about the technology on planes is that it prevents particles from moving from one end of a flight to another. The airflow and the air circulation are designed within plane cabins to move from ceiling to floor rather than from the front to the back.
This design means that if someone infected by the virus gets on board the plane, you are in, you are very likely to remain safe. The virus particles are limited to traveling vertically, not horizontally. However, this does not guarantee a 100% limitation on small particles. There are variables at play that can make the air movement in a plane cabin random. The movement of people up and down the aisle can affect how the small particles in the air behave.
Precautions by Airlines
Aside from technology, major airlines also employ other tactics that help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Before and after boarding a plane, airlines require passengers to take a swab test to confirm that the virus does not infect them. Testing of this kind is the quickest way to verify the health of the passengers. However, there are also other tests.
One of the symptoms of getting the virus is fever. Although temperature checks do not keep us safe, they keep potentially infected individuals from getting into flights, which keeps us safe.
Quarantine is a medical practice backed by science. It is the practice of isolating the sick from the healthy. Quarantine Anyone who can be potentially infected by the coronavirus to ensure that the virus does not spread.
If any person potentially has the virus, anyone who has made physical contact with that person is traced and also isolated.
All of these scientific principles require technology to accomplish, as in gizmos and gadgets, too. Temperature checks require accurate thermometers to produce the best results. Contact tracing needs computers that can store tons of information to track all the passengers and who they came into physical contact. Quarantine requires sealed isolation rooms so that nothing as small as the virus can get out. And swab tests, as well as other tests, expect all sorts of technological whatnots to work.
Soon, there is a vision of touchless flights. It is a vision where air travel passengers do not need to touch anything, not the baggage shelves, not the bathroom door, nothing. TAV Technologies, an aerospace tech company, are hard at work in bringing about that future. Here are possible future technologies that airports will use in the future.
- Biometrics. There is a possibility of using biometrics to confirm the passengers' identification. Contactless fingerprint scanners and iris and face recognition will most likely come into play.
- Gesturing and voice command. For data entry and touchless document scanning, only gesturing and voice command technologies seem useful.
- Mobile applications. Using mobile apps to navigate airports and collect boarding passes are already popular with some travelers. In the future, it might become the norm. Mobile apps will eliminate the need to stay in lines and will help keep social distancing.
- Passenger flow monitoring. Passenger flow monitoring lets airport operators monitor the positions and movements of passengers in real-time. It will help maintain a safe distance between each individual in an airport.
- Queuing control. A queuing management solution uses artificial intelligence to track the density of passengers in certain areas. It automatically counts passengers within a specific area and calculates the distances between them. This will keep both passengers and airport staff alike aware of the social distancing rules. Such technology also sends real-time notifications to airport personnel, allowing them to take proactive actions in maintaining a safe distance between passengers in a line. This virtual queuing tech will prevent flight passengers from getting crowded.
However, airlines have not implemented these technologies. And some of them are not even realized yet. Air travels today are still not as safe as a touchless flight future. Until then, each plane passenger has to make do with what is available now.
Leave Nothing to Chance
With all those technologies utilized, it is still essential to make sure that we, as individuals, take all the care and precautions to keep ourselves and others safe. Do not compromise with wearing a protective mask. Make sure that you are socially distanced from others as much as possible. Always sanitize your hands. Avoid touching people and things people have affected.
The technologies in place are not sufficient to eradicate the spread of the virus. There is still a possibility, a small chance, that the virus can spread in a plane cabin during the flight. Protect yourself and protect others. Leave nothing to chance.