Face masks and no duty free: EU issues coronavirus air safety guidelines


Air travellers will have to wear face masks throughout all stages of their journey, they could be assessed in interview booths if they show signs of Covid-19, and will need to say goodbye to loved ones outside the airport, according to guidelines issued by the EU’s air safety body.

Instructions issued to airports and airlines also include: restrictions on hand luggage, reserving an on-board toilet for cabin crew and no onboard duty free or food trolleys.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published 28-pages of guidelines that will radically alter the experience of flying, including physical distancing measures that Heathrow’s chief executive has previously said would be impossible to implement. The UK has had no role in shaping EASA policy since the official Brexit date of 31 January but remains a member until the end of the year.

Airlines and airports are likely to adopt many of the guidelines, which cover every stage of the air travel process.

Arrival and check-in
Anyone who develops symptoms after booking, or has been in contact with someone suffering from Covid-19, should not turn up to the flight.

Passengers should not expect a lingering goodbye with loved ones at the terminal. With few exceptions, nobody who is not travelling or working there will be allowed inside.

Those travelling are expected to take precautions such as washing hands and wearing masks, with exceptions for children under six and people with a medical reason not to. Regular reminders will be broadcast through the public address system, alongside the usual security messages and flight information.

EASA also recommends “respiratory etiquette”, such as covering the face when sneezing. Those who do not comply could be ejected from the airport and suffer further penalties from local authorities.

Physical distancing is defined as 1.5m, rather than the 2 metre gap Britons have been told to maintain. As in many shops and offices, there will be floor markings to show people where to stand in queues.

However, physical distancing is unlikely to be feasible in many airports and the EASA guidelines state that if the 1.5m rule is not possible, the airport should implement additional measures such as hand hygiene. John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive, said physical distancing at a boarding gate would mean a queue of 1km for a jumbo jet.

EASA said airport operators should set up interview booths for people found to have a temperature of more than 38C to assess possible illness.

However, it also admits that temperature screening is not considered particularly effective at spotting Covid-19 and is more intended to “dissuade ill persons from travelling by air and enhance public confidence”. Nonetheless, Heathrow airport last week rolled out temperature screening, using camera detection systems to monitor multiple people at a time for signs of fever.

Airport staff will need to wear face masks and hand them out to passengers not sporting their own. Protective perspex barriers are also likely to become a feature of check-in desks and security areas, under the guidelines. Heathrow has said it is installing 600 hand sanitiser stations, putting up signage featuring government health advice and even looking at using UV light to sanitise surfaces.