Travel and COVID-19 - August 12, 2020
August 12, 2020 - 4 min. read
These days it's rare to read an uplifting article about travel, COVID-19, or the “future,” so I was relieved to come across a Bloomberg article titled “The Airport of the Future Will Have No Check-In or Security Lines.” Jackpot! Although the article shared some fairly dire predictions for travel (tourism won’t fully recover until 2023), it suggested that the forced hiatus in air travel, especially internationally, has allowed some airports around the world to spend time, money, and energy on improving the airport experience—both in ways we’ve anticipated and ways we haven’t.
Among some of the changes travellers can expect to see when they return to a few major airports: disinfection booths, biometric security scans, automated customs and border patrol screenings, and enhanced self-check-in stations; these innovations, taken together, “represent the most significant overhaul of the airport experience since Sept. 11” (Bloomberg). A number of airports were already utilizing some of these technologies and committing huge amounts of money to airport improvement and expansion; however, as with remote work and food delivery, COVID-19 has sped up the execution of technology-based development because, well, airports have no choice if they wish to entice travellers to return and to operate successfully when they do. Another Bloomberg article reports that “the International Air Transport Association expects $100 billion in aviation industry losses by next year, with a return to pre-pandemic traffic not happening until 2024” (Bloomberg).
Given COVID’s persistence and longevity, the impetus to use technology to improve airports is about more than just innovation. The congested, heavily trafficked, touch-reliant nature of many airports isn’t functional, let alone safe, at a time when people need space and distance. One of the solutions to these issues, according to Bloomberg, are innovative upgrades that fundamentally change the way airports, and the people in them, function and flow. Examples include a completely digitized check-in process (including touchless kiosks that print baggage tags when you scan your phone); improved surveillance (including casino-like “eye-in-the-sky” cameras and state-of-the-art sensors); new ways of detecting and disinfecting (including full-body stalls that look like tanning beds and, gulp…robots); and an entirely touchless departure (including automated gates that scan your face and biometrically verify your identity) (Bloomberg).
So while we don’t know exactly when we’ll be visiting our nearest airport to hop on a 12-hour flight, it’s promising that it may have received a minor renovation or a major overhaul during this period of ground travel that will make future flights both easier and safer. In the meantime, stay safe and keep washing those hands.