The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have issued a joint document defining recommended Covid-19 health and safety measures for the resumption of air travel.
The guidelines feature overarching principles such as observing physical distancing where possible, wearing facemasks and encouraging passengers to practice "scrupulous" handwashing and hygiene. The agencies said airlines must reassure their customers that the filtered air on board aircraft is "safer and cleaner than many of us breathe on the ground".
It also recommends the use of thermal screening at departure airports but says scientific evidence shows the use of entry screening at arrival airports is ineffective. Nonetheless, the agencies said such screening measures could act as a way to boost passenger confidence.
European commissioner for air transport Adina Valean said: "The safety of passengers and crews has always been paramount in aviation. Passengers have to have confidence that taking to the skies again in a confined space with other people poses the minimum possible risk to their health.
"The protocol released today will reassure passengers that it is safe for them to fly and so help the industry recover from the effects of this pandemic."
According to EASA, the protocols rely heavily on air passengers taking personal responsibility by not travelling if they have any of the common Covid-19 symptoms (fever, cough, sudden loss of smell, or shortness of breath), or if they know they have come into contact with someone confirmed to have the disease. It said passengers should be asked to declare their Covid-19-related status before receiving their boarding pass and will be required to provide contact information to allow for "track and trace" procedures if another person on their flight later tests positive for coronavirus.
For airlines and airports, the agencies say "significant changes" will be required. "Aeroplane operators and airport operators should cooperate to ensure physical distancing is respected wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security check, pre-boarding and boarding." The guideline states that other mitigation measures such as hand hygiene and "respiratory etiquette" should be used where physical distancing of at least 1.5 meters is not possible, and that those dropping off passengers "will need to say goodbye" and not enter the terminal building.
On the aircraft, EASA said the guidelines offer flexibility but are clear that physical distancing should be maintained where allowed "by passenger load, cabin configuration and mass and balance requirements".
The International Air Transport Association, which put forward its own proposal of a layering of measuresbefore, during and after journeys, welcomed the announcement, saying the guidelines are aligned with recommendations provided by airlines and airports.
Rafael Schvartzman, IATA regional vice president for Europe, commented: "EASA and ECDC has delivered a sensible framework for restarting aviation while protecting public health. The guidance is clear that while airlines should seek to maintain physical distancing where practicable, flexibility on seating arrangements is permitted. And quarantine requirements are not necessary."
IATA long has criticized the idea of leaving middle seats empty during flights, saying the model is not economically viable for airlines and would drive ticket prices up. It has also hit back at individual governments' decisions to impose 14-day quarantine periods for international travelers, which it says could further delay the industry's recovery.
Schvartzman continued: "But it is absolutely essential that all European states apply these guidelines in a harmonized and mutually recognized way. Local deviations and exceptions will damage public confidence and make it harder to operate effectively. This would be harmful to public health and the economic recovery. IATA will support states to implement these guidelines in the fastest and most efficient way."
Thomas Reynaert, managing director of Airlines for Europe, said: "Travelers need reassurance that they can plan their trips with confidence. For this, we need member states to implement coordinated and consistent processes and measures across European airports. Equally important, we urge national authorities to adhere to the European Commission's guidelines calling for 'individually targeted measures' as opposed to blanket measures such as quarantines."