Post-coronavirus travel 'will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery,' Dubai Airports CEO says

As the world explores lifting coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry is weighing the major changes travelers may see when they choose to return to the air. 

a group of people around each other: Passenger go through TSA screening at a nearly-deserted O'Hare International Airport on April 2, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

© Scott Olson, Getty Images
Passenger go through TSA screening at a nearly-deserted O’Hare International Airport on April 2, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Going through an airport, the whole travel experience, will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery,” Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths recently told Bloomberg, adding that precautionary measures like personal protective equipment and social distancing restrictions can only be short-term solutions while waiting on a vaccine. 

“This crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the aviation business,” he added. “We’re dealing with a monster.”

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In the meantime, many airlines have intensified aircraft cleaning, using electrostatic sprayers and a host of other measures. They have introduced new boarding procedures and are blocking middle seats to promote social distancing.

“Safety will no longer be limited to flight safety but personal safety as well,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview on CNBC last month. “We’ve doubled down – in fact, tripled down – on sanitation and hygiene (and) cleanliness.”

All major U.S. airlines and an increasing number of airports now require passengers to wear masks or other face coverings. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas became the first airport last week to introduce vending machines selling personal protective equipment including face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told CNBC last month that some of those temporary measures airlines are currently taking, such as asking travelers to wear masks, might become permanent policies.  

Bastian concurred, predicting that new permanent in-flight changes to promote social distancing could include new seating plans, fewer passengers per flight and immunity passports. 

“Just as with 9/11, I definitely think we’re going to see some things here change for good,” Hayes said.

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