By Richard Quest, CNN | May 1, 2020 at 12:42 PM EDT – Updated May 1 at 12:42 PM
NEW YORK (CNN) – Social distancing and air travel are contradictions in terms.
With long lines, evaporating legroom and invasive reclining, air travel is particularly ill-suited for our new coronavirus reality.
The pandemic has left global travel at a virtual standstill. And it’s clear, the way we fly will need to change before passengers feel comfortable returning to the friendly skies en masse.
Before the crisis, there was a massive drive to maximize capacity on board airplanes, pushing the flying public ever-closer together.
Now, airlines must embrace the exact opposite.
At the very least it seems, the middle seat will probably stay empty for the foreseeable future.
Even though that will make it almost impossible for airlines to make money.
Ticket prices will have to go up, according to International Air Transport Association CEO Alexandre de Juniac.
“In these conditions, there’s no airline which is able to fly and make money on these flights. So, it means two things: either we can not fly or we have to increase the prices of the tickets by at least 50-100%. So, it is the end of the cheap travel for everyone,” he said.
Airlines are ramping up other precautions.
On JetBlue, Air Canada, Korean Air and Lufthansa, masks will be mandatory for the duration of flights.
Emirates is limiting carryon baggage to only the essentials. Meals are being doled out in bento-style boxes to reduce contact. Even the inflight magazines have been removed from seatback pockets in case they carry the virus.
Expect to see cabin crews donning visors and gowns. Full personal protection equipment could be the order of the day.
And Qatar Airways says it’s doing thermal screenings of its crew.
In spite of all these measures, Barry Diller, the head of Expedia, believes flying and social distancing are simply incompatible.
“The idea that you can take the middle seat out of an airplane and have any kind of quote ‘social distancing’ is absurd. You can’t. It does not work,” he said.
“Social distancing works when it’s complete. You can maybe clean planes better. Yes, that would be good anyway. But social distancing in these kinds of arenas is a myth. “
The Italian cabin design firm Aviointeriors has designed molded shields that could be fitted on existing airline seats, putting a barrier between passengers to increase isolation.
A more extreme interior overhaul turns the middle seat around entirely to keep contact between passengers at a minimum.
To be sure, the travel industry will reopen and we will take to the air again.
However, for passengers like you and me, the experience we go through will never be quite the same again.
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