Qantas and Jetstar will hand all passengers face masks and sanitising wipes as part of a range of “peace of mind” coronavirus measures introduced from 12 June.
However, the airline is insisting it is reluctant to keep the middle seat free when recreational domestic travel resumes in July, reversing an earlier policy introduced in late April.
Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said, “Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe.”
The new initiative is being called the “Fly Well” program and introduces what it’s terming “wellbeing improvements” based on “best-practice medical advice” and customer feedback.
The new pre-flight measures – posted in full below – will see app check-in and self-serve bag drop encouraged, hand sanitising stations at departure gates and lounges and “enhanced disinfection of surfaces”.
Onboard, masks will be provided to all passengers but wearing them will not be mandatory.
Similarly, customers will be handed wipes to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests if preferred. There will also be sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.
However, the airline looks set to reverse an earlier policy to keep the middle seat free on domestic flights – if the government allows. Currently, they are being filled for international repatriation flights, but effectively kept empty for essential interstate journeys. As yet, there is no legal obligation in Australia to enforce social distancing onboard.
“The data shows that actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low,” said Dr Hosegood. “That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier.
“As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.”
Chief executive Alan Joyce had previously said, “Even if you take the middle seat as being empty, that’s 60 centimetres. The social distancing rules are supposed to be 1.5 metres. If you did that, you’d have very few people on an aircraft and the airfares would have to be very high.”
Today, Joyce played on their experience of flying during the pandemic: “From the early rescue flights we operated right into Wuhan and then more recently bringing Australians back from places like the US and Europe, we have a lot of experience at creating a safe cabin environment for passengers and crew.”
Internationally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said it supports the wearing of masks for passengers, but not social distancing.
IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac has previously pointed to dramatic cost increases to air travel that would likely come about as a result of such a policy.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low,” de Juniac.
“And we will take measures — such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew — to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”
Qantas coronavirus prevention measures
- Information sent to all customers before they fly, so they know what to expect.
- Contactless check-in (via online/app) and self-serve bag drop strongly encouraged, including use of Q Bag Tags.
- Hand sanitising stations at departure gates.
- Temporary changes to Qantas Lounges, including increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations, enhanced disinfection of surfaces and adjustments to food and drink service.
- Working with airports on other safeguards in the terminal, including regular disinfection of security screening points and installing hygiene screens at airline customer service desks, wherever practical.
- Masks provided to all passengers on each flight – while not mandatory from a safety point of view, they are recommended to be worn in the interests of everyone’s peace of mind.
- Enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a disinfectant effective against coronaviruses, with a focus on high contact areas – seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets.
- Sanitising wipes given to all passengers to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests themselves, if preferred.
- Simplified service and catering to minimise touchpoints for crew and passengers.
- Passengers asked to limit movement around cabin, once seated.
- Sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.