International travel during a pandemic: How safe are you really?

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With international being given the green light by government, airlines and airports are doing everything to ensure the safe return of customers. Pictures: Sthembiso Lebuso
With international being given the green light by government, airlines and airports are doing everything to ensure the safe return of customers. Pictures: Sthembiso Lebuso

BUSINESS


President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on November 11, that level 1 restrictions will be relaxed, was welcomed by many, including the airline industry. But how safe will travellers be?

“Government will be opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate. By using rapid tests and strict monitoring we intend to limit the spread of the infection through importation,” Ramaphosa said.

Airlines, including Air France-KLM, have welcomed government’s decision. Wouter Vermeulen, general manager at Air France-KLM Southern Africa, said they were taking all the precautions needed to ensure the safety for their customers and staff.

Vermeulen said that Air France never really stopped operations in South Africa as it was responsible for a lot of repatriation flights. “These flights were great practice for the return of international flights,” he said.

The measures taken during the repatriation flights were similar to those in place for the normal international flights, he said. “We’ve had time to practice for the return for normal international flights.”

The airports have reduced access points as part of the new measures.

Read: Ramaphosa extends UIF and Ters payment by a month, relaxes alcohol trade and international travel restrictions

At the OR Tambo International Airport, for example, only terminal B is operational. Security is at every entrance point.

To reduce the number of those entering the terminal, those travelling will be asked to show their tickets. They will be screened and only allowed in when they meet the requirements.

The new scanners eliminate the need for bags to be offloaded, bags are scanned as a whole. There are new body scanners that are more efficient and can even pick up ceramic knives
Vincent Zerbib

Vincent Zerbib, Air France-KLM SA station manager, said they have taken the necessary measures to ensure that customers are protected when they get to check-in points.

“Before people get into the gates, they will be required to provide their ??department of health travel questionnaires to security [officials],” Zerbib said. When they reach the gates, they will be scanned by new scanners.

“The new scanners eliminate the need for bags to be offloaded, bags are scanned as a whole. There are new body scanners that are more efficient and can even pick up ceramic knives,” he said.

Zerbib added that the new process has made it easier, safer and faster for travellers to pass through the gates.

OR Tambo
With international being given the green light by government, airlines and airports are doing everything to ensure the safe return of customers. Pictures: Sthembiso Lebuso

Measures are taken to ensure that the planes are safe too. “The planes are disinfected when they leave and when they arrive at their destinations, according to regulations set out by health and safety regulators,” Zerbib said.

Travellers are required to have their face masks on at all times.

The number of times the crew interacts with the travellers has also been reduced.

Read: African countries need to open borders for tourism – to jump start economies devastated by Covid-19

“The whole system of serving meals has been changed to reduce the contact between the crew and travellers. For example, instead of the meals arriving at different times, the starter, main and dessert are now served at the same time,” Zerbib said.

“We understand that comes with flying during this time, but we would like to tell our customers that we are doing everything we can to ensure their safety,” Vermeulen said.

The airline industry took a massive knock when the Covid-19 coronavirus caused many countries to impose lockdowns. The International Air Transport Association expects airlines to lose $84.3 billion (R1.3 trillion) this year. The association expects revenues fall by 50% to $419 billion from $838 billion last year.

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