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Flights resumed at airports last week after three months, no thanks to government’s measures to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus. But, passengers’ turnout remains unimpressive due to risks of catching COVID-19. The development is forcing carriers to deploy technological innovations to grow load factor to remain profitable, KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR reports.

ACTIVITIES at airports nationwide assumed various dimensions last week as domestic carriers resumed flights amid new realities, three months after they suspended flights to implement containment measures by the government to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The industry restarted operations amid fresh concerns – the risk of catching COVID19 during air travel. As a consequence, there was low passenger traffic, despite a myriad of health, safety, airworthiness and operational protocols put in place aeronautical agencies to achieve physical and social distancing on the ground and aboard aircraft.

Though many passengers were watching keenly the turn of events, before they would show up at airports for flights, public enlightenment messages by airlines and aviation agencies appeared to miss the target of pulling prospective passengers to the airport.

A survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed the unwillingness of many passengers to travel over the risks of catching COVID-19.

The report also said the industry’s re-start plans addressed passenger’s main concerns. It also indicated that many travellers were taking precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19.

The IATA survey revealed that 77 per cent of passengers said they washed their hands more frequently before embarking on any flight, 71 per cent said they were avoiding large meetings and 67 per cent wore face masks in public places.

Some 58 per cent of those surveyed said they would avoid air travel, 33 per cent suggested that they would avoid travel in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.

When asked to rank the top three measures that would make them feel safer, 37 per cent cited COVID-19 screening at departure airports.

Thirty-four per cent agreed with mandatory wearing of face masks and 33 per cent noted social distancing measures on aircraft.

According to the survey, passengers displayed a willingness to play a role in keeping flying safe, with 43 per cent ready to undergo temperature checks, 42 per cent willing to wear a face mask during air travel while 40 per cent expressed readiness to minimise interaction by adopting online check-in procedures. About 39 per cent of passengers said they were willing to take a COVID -19 test prior to any trip by while 38 per cent want their seating areas sanitised before any flight.

The survey report reads : “People are clearly concerned about COVID-19 when travelling. But they are also reassured by the measures being introduced by governments and the industry under the Take-off guidance developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

These include mask-wearing, the introduction of contactless technology in travel processes and screening measures. This tells us that we are on the right track to restoring confidence in travel,” a source said.

“To have maximum effect, it is critical that governments deploy these measures globally,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director-general and CEO. de Juniac said: “The survey also pointed to some key issues in restoring confidence where the industry will need to communicate the facts more effectively.

Travellers’ top concerns include Cabin air quality: Travellers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality.”

To avoid contact between passengers and airline personnel, Dana Air has introduced WhatsApp Booking in line with the social/ physical distancing measures of COVID-19 and for ease of booking, payment and inquiries for its passengers.

The WhatsApp booking and payment platform, the first of its kind in Nigeria, will serve as an additional platform for booking, inquiries, reservation and payment apart from the airline’s website. The Media and Communications Manager of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, said:

”We care about the well-being of our guests and we want them to be safe. This is why we are introducing this initiative to keep our guests safe, while still booking and paying the smartest and safest way from anywhere around the world.”

Spokesman for Arik Air, Mr. Banji Ola, expressed satisfaction with the passenger traffic, orderliness and cooperation of passengers.

He praised the arrangements by the airports authority to ensure the safety of passengers. Speaking on the resumption of flights, Air Peace spokesman Mr. Stanley Olisa said the airline had put in place reliable measures to protect passengers and staff members preflight, in-flight and post-flight.

Olisa said the flying public should not express any worry but comply with health protocols rolled out by aeronautical authorities. He said the airline had disinfected its aircraft, affirming that its flight crew had undertaken the training to remain COVID-19 conscious.

He stressed that passengers must wear their face masks before entering the airport terminal and on board, and were expected to submit themselves to temperature checks before boarding. According to him, “If your temperature reads above 37 degrees, you’ll be denied boarding. No loitering on the aisle of the aircraft. Hands must be sanitised and no more meals on board.

“This is to reduce crew-passenger contact. Flying will be somewhat different but we can guarantee your safety”.

The airline urged its customers to embrace online booking and check-in, employing its user-friendly Mobile App, to minimise contact.

Olisa, who urged the flying public to download the Air Peace Mobile App for seamless booking and check-in, asserted that the airline’s aircraft were in perfect shape as multiple shakedown flights had been conducted for safety reassurance. He added that the airline had also been operating ‘special’ flights, an indication of aircraft airworthiness.

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