How flying will be different in Covid-19 times
Rwanda, like other countries in the region and around the world, has lifted travel restrictions that were caused by Covid-19 outbreak, allowing commercial passenger flights to fly to the country starting on August 1.
This has seen RwandAir, the national flag carrier, announce plans for flight resumption on August 1, after nearly five months since the airline suspended operations.
As planes return to the skies in the wake of the pandemic, how different will flying be for passengers who are already anxious to fly?
RwandAir CEO Yvonne Makolo said they have put all measures in place as directed by International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to make sure passengers and staff are safe when we resume operations.
So far eight foreign airlines that fly to Kigali have applied to reopen operations (Qatar Airways, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airways, and Jambojet).
Here’s how flying will be different;
The next time you are about to embark on a trip before the world gets the vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, prepare to have a whole different experience while flying on any aircraft.
Before flying, all passengers will have to show Covid-19 negative certificate, whether they are arriving, transiting or departing from Rwanda.
This is going to be a norm for other airports and airlines.
Testing has been one of the most recommended measures to deal with Covid-19 pandemic, as countries race to develop vaccines and therapeutics.
Pre-boarding temperature checks on passengers are likely to become a routine element of flying and physical distancing indicators will become ubiquitous around airports, as will protective screens at check-in desks and immigration counters.
At the Kigali International Airport, thermal cameras that screen people for temperature have been installed on arrival and departure areas.
At some airports, like Kigali International Airport, autonomous robots have been deployed to perform mass screening activities when the airport reopens doors in August.
The robots deployed have the capacity to screen up to 150 people per minute for temperature and can notify workers for detected abnormalities.
Last week when the media toured the airport, a robot nicknamed “Urumuri” was seen at the departure area, mass screening people for temperature checks.
The robots also detect those walking in with no masks and instruct them to wear them.
Passengers on departure will respect all health safety measures. Departing passengers from Kigali International Airport will be guided by physical distancing signs scattered around the airport.
Seats at the waiting area will be marked to direct passengers to leave a one-metre sit between every other passenger, allowing them to respect health measures of physical distancing.
Arrival passengers will respect the same health safety measures.
Sanitisers will be available at check-in desks, counters, and passport control areas, while passengers will be welcomed by thermal imaging cameras deployed around departure and arrival areas to help identify people who may have coronavirus.
Airport operators have put in place self-check-in kiosks that allow passengers to check-in themselves without physically meeting ticketing agents. A passenger can spend less than a minute at the kiosk.
Every check-in counter is equipped with a sanitiser so that there’s no contamination through document handling, and counters are protected with glass visors.
Regulators have recommended cleaning and disinfecting of the aircraft during and after landing.
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority has, among other guidelines, said all airlines will have their aircraft disinfected and cleaned when they land at the Kigali International Airport.
This is to accommodate safe operations for the passengers and crew.
Onboard the aircraft
Onboard RwandAir aircraft, the crew will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) – everything from gowns and goggles, to face masks and gloves.
The boarding process will be conducted in respect of safety measures against Covid-19, and it will be conducted in small groups, starting at the back of the plane all the way to the front.
“We’ve made sure that the aircraft is thoroughly cleaned (through disinfection) after each flight,” Makolo said last week.
The airline chief said all aircraft are fitted with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which ensure that all the viruses and germs are extracted from the cabin to make sure that the cabin air is safe to breathe.
“We have also modified our menu on board to try and avoid contact between our crew and the passengers,” she said.
All passengers will have their masks on throughout their travel, and they will be encouraged to bring as many masks as possible to change them after every four hours, especially those on long-haul flights.
The airline is also implementing a policy of one piece of cabin luggage per passenger in order to avoid congestion on aisles and people touching too many bags on board.
This policy is being implemented by many other airlines across the world.
The Director-General of Rwanda Biomedical Center, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana told the media last week that Rwandair Crew has been given simulation drills of how to handle a case on board.
“At the moment, we have a better knowledge of how to manage Covid-19 than when we first recorded the first case in Rwanda. We have been able to figure out how the dynamics of the virus change,” he said.
Random tests are taken on streets and in designated three testing centres in the country.
“Our capacity to test and contain also improved tremendously. We are ready to ensure that more infections don’t come on planes as was the case when the pandemic broke out,” he noted.