Are Air Travel Health Regulations Here to Stay?

The coronavirus outbreak has caused historic shifts in the air travel industry, including sweeping new health and safety measures in airports and on planes. Airlines are blocking middle seats, altering in-flight food and beverage services, and sanitizing their planes more deeply than ever before, while fliers are having their temperatures checked multiple times in some airports.

But how long will these additional measures last? Most experts say passengers can expect to see them for the long haul.

In a survey of aviation executives by consulting group ICF, 92 percent of respondents said they expect to see enhanced aircraft hygiene requirements post-COVID-19. At least one U.S. airline—Delta—has said it plans to use its new extensive sanitizing procedures for the foreseeable future. Other carriers are likely to follow suit as a response to the crisis.

One possible way forward is to continue blocking the middle seat, which U.S. airlines, including United, American, Alaska, and Delta, are doing on a temporary basis. (Most of the carriers say they will reassess around summertime.) But air travel experts say that those regulations are likely to last for longer, helping passengers feel comfortable but creating a significant financial snag for already ailing airlines.

Another possible scenario is once travel restrictions begin to lift, international airlines will shoulder the bulk of health regulations. One example? Last week Emirates began administering rapid result blood tests to passengers on certain international repatriation flights before boarding.