Life After Lockdown: Airport, airline protocols hope to calm travel jitters but flights remain scarce

Gaea Katreena Cabico, Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Life After Lockdown: Airport, airline protocols hope to calm travel jitters but flights remain scarce

Philstar.com's Life After Lockdown is a compendium of references on Filipinos' shift to a new normalcy during a coronavirus pandemic.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:38 p.m.) — The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a crushing blow to global air travel, which has been directly affected by confinement measures and stringent travel restrictions around the world. 

As the Philippines begins to lift restrictions on mobility and open borders to inject life into the economy paralyzed by months of closures, domestic carriers are keen to have their planes flying again while ensuring that measures to keep passengers safe during travel are in place. 

Which flights are allowed to operate? Beginning May 11, some inbound commercial international flights will be able to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airports are allowed to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Saturdays.

  • Chartered international inbound flights are only allowed to land on Monday and Thursday.
  • These travel restrictions at NAIA will last until June 10.
  • Under the IATF guidelines, all foreigners may leave anytime but Filipinos may not, except for OFWs, permanent residents or holders of student visa in their country of destination.

Protocols inside airports: Everyone is required to wear face masks or other protective gear such as face shields and undergo mandatory checking of body temperature when entering airport premises. Only passengers with valid travel documents will be allowed inside terminals.

  • Security procedures such as walking through x-ray machines, portable scanners, handheld metal detectors will be done through “no contact means,” effectively limiting close contact security screening by means of patting down or manual frisking to exceptional instances or situations.
  • Physical distancing measures at check-in counters and kiosks will be strictly observed.
  • Foot baths are placed at all entry and exit points, boarding bridges and/or similar areas for passenger embarkation or disembarkation to and from the aircraft as well as disinfecting facilities will be installed. COVID-19 testing facilities will be also put up in airports.

Will there be empty middle seats? International standards in social distancing inside the aircraft prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association will be followed whenever applicable.

  • While IATA supports the mandatory wearing of face coverings for passengers and crews on board the aircraft, it opposes mandating physical distancing measures that would leave middle seats empty.
  • The international aviation governing body claimed that “evidence” suggests that the risk of virus transmission on board aircraft is low unlike other modes of public transportation and warned that physical distancing measures could drastically jack up the cost of tickets by at least 43% when air travel slowly restarts.
  • “Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset with higher prices, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general and CEO, said.
  • Roberto Lim, Air Carriers Association of the Philippines vice chairman, told a Senate panel Monday that a possible one-seat-apart policy in aircrafts “would not be economically viable for the airlines.” ACAP includes flag carrier Philippine Airlines and budget carriers Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines.

What are the airline procedures during the “new normal?” To minimize surface and physical contact, PAL, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines urge passengers to check-in for flights online. All departing and arriving passengers will be also required to electronically fill out health declaration forms.

  • Passengers should wear masks during flight. Cabin crew of the three airlines are also required to don PPEs while on duty.
  • The aircraft of PAL, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor filters, which filter our airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria. Planes will be also thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
  • In the event that there are suspected or ill passengers on board, the cabin crew must, among others, keep the last three seat rows of the plane vacant to provide an area to isolate them. When passengers and crew members have disembarked after the flight has landed, the isolated passengers, their immediate caretakers and/or the cabin crew will be transferred to a medical facility for examination.


The following are the airline procedures during the arrival of aircraft:

  • Senior cabin crew will hand over medical incident report and log safety report to ground personnel
  • The crew will commence passenger disembarkation (per standard operating procedures)
  • Crew will announce the observance of physical distancing during the zone deplaning announcement
  • Ground staff shall minimize visits to the flight deck, unless absolutely necessary
  • Intercom shall be recommended for communications to minimize close proximity
  • Crew shall avoid contact with passengers
  • Transit passengers shall not be allowed to leave the airport and shall be strictly and closely monitored and shepherded to their connecting flights

From May 11 to June 10, flights that will be allowed to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport will have a cap of 400 passengers per day. Manila International Airport Authority general manager Ed Monreal said these passengers will be comprised of returning overseas Filipino workers and Filipino residents.

Inbound passengers will be required to undergo a polymerase chain reaction test for COVID-19 and facility-based quarantine once they arrive in the Philippines.

Should travelers put off their plans? The World Travel & Tourism Council expects a "gradual return" to travel over the coming months as a “new normal” emerges before a vaccine becomes available.

  • Travel is likely to return first to domestic markets with staycations, then to a country’s nearest neighbors before expanding across regions, WTTC said. Soon, confidence in long-haul international destinations will return.
  • WTTC believes younger travelers in the 18-35 age group, who appear to be less vulnerable to COVID-19, may also be among the first to begin traveling once again.

How safe are airports under the new normal status? The WTTC is devising the new "safe travels" protocols following close consultation with its members, as well as industry associations like Airports Council International, Cruise Lines International Association and the IATA to bring confidence back and set clear expectations of what travelers may front in their next trip.

  • The new protocols will apply across the main industries within travel and tourism including hospitality, aviation, airports, cruise operators, retail, transportation and tour operators, among others. 
  • “The protocols, which have been developed using experience from China’s initial recovery and from new successful standards used by retailers, will be fully announced in the next two weeks and shared with governments globally, so there is a coordinated approach to travelling within the COVID-19 world,” the WTTC said.







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