Air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic has been problematic. On the one hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. And, of course, Americans continue to be barred from entering many countries.
This may be about to change, if global airline alliances can convince governments differently.
First, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council endorsed new updates to its Aviation Recovery Task Force’s (CART’s) “Take-off” Guidelines for international air transport.
That news was quickly followed by three global airline alliances -- Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam -- beginning to urge governments to put common guidelines for passenger testing and digital health pass technology into practice so people can resume flying. Those alliances represent 58 member airlines, account for more than 60 percent of world airline capacity, and were carrying more than 1.87 billion passengers annually before the COVID-19 pandemic.
SkyTeam members include Aeroflot, Delta, Air France-KLM, and China Airlines. Oneworld members, among others, include American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Alaska Airlines. Finally, some of Star Alliance’s members are Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, and United Airlines.
The lack of airline travel has resulted in an economic crisis for airlines. The ICAO projects an overall reduction of 51 percent of seats offered by airlines in 2020, an overall reduction of between 2,867 and 2,897 million passengers in 2020, and an approximate potential loss of U.S. $388 billion to $392 billion in airlines’ gross passenger operating revenues. The first quarter of next year looks just as dismal, unless things change.
“Aviation supports millions of jobs around the world and drives international commerce, trade, and tourism,” said SkyTeam CEO Kristin Colvile. “Urgent action is needed to adopt testing and technology to mitigate COVID risks and safely and quickly revive international air travel.”
So, what can be done?
As the alliances note, COVID-19 testing has emerged as an important part of an end-to-end solution to enable the safe restart of international travel by potentially reducing the reliance on what they term “the blunt instrument” of blanket quarantines. They cite, for instance, recent tests of the CommonPass digital health pass, which uses a smartphone app to securely verify that passengers have complied with health requirements.
“We welcome the publication of the updated CART report which, among other things, calls for the serious consideration of screening and testing as a means for easing travel and border restrictions, and reviving the travel and tourism industry and the global economy,” said Star Alliance CEO Jeffrey Goh. “A robust protocol for testing will also provide further evidence to demonstrate that air travel is not a material cause for infections and will pave the way for a framework of trust to be established between countries.”