Sunday, March 14, 2021

Will COVID-19 Cause Airports to Change Again?

Standing in line and showing your papers 

After the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, and some subsequent terrorist attempts involving passenger air travel, we all got accustomed to real changes in the experience at the airport. Long TSA lines, taking off shoes, throwing away our water bottles at the check point, travelling with tiny containers of toiletries, plus a trip through the X-Ray machine for our luggage. I’m wondering whether we are on the eve of another set of changes at airports.


COVID-19 documents
Photo credit

One of the many Coronavirus-inspired discussions these days surrounds proof of vaccination. As the numbers of people vaccinated goes up, some still refuse vaccination and others just haven’t gotten the opportunity yet. It seems to me that the airports, and even the airlines themselves, are in uncharted territory as more people look to get back to air travel.


In order to preserve safe conditions, will we be asked to carry “vaccine passports” as proof of vaccination in order to travel to and enter some locations. Would this be one more document to show at the TSA checkpoint, or perhaps at some other airport check point? What are the implications for international travel? Today, upon entering a country from international travel, we go through customs to review what we might be bringing into the country from elsewhere. How might this change? It’s not hard to imagine something like vaccine passport checks as part of the process, given that different countries may be at different levels of vaccination and have different rules regarding travel. 


Beyond documents, will rapid testing play some part? If, as we all hope, vaccinations worldwide help to make COVID-19 rare or even "background noise" soon, maybe there’s no role for testing in airports. But what if some of the COVID-19 variants make for uncertainty over the next year or more about vaccination efficacy? Would rapid testing at airports, perhaps with short term quarantine areas, need to be considered for at least some arriving passengers depending on the locations they have visited?


We didn’t imagine the airport experience changing so drastically before September 11th, 2001. Maybe we should imagine it now.


Do you think COVID-19 may have any significant impact on the travel experience or do we go back to the February 2020 notion of “normal?” What if anything do you expect to change? Leave a comment and let us know.

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