Qantas has revealed the safety and social distancing measures passengers can expect once coronavirus travel restrictions are eased.
The changes will be based on medical advice, feedback from customers and lessons learned from repatriation flights from virus hot-spots.
From June 12, information will be sent to all customers before they fly so they know what to expect.
Passengers on both Qantas and Jetstar will be strongly encouraged to check-in online and use the self-serve bag drop.
The Qantas Group, says contactless check-in (via online/app) and self-serve bag drop is strongly encouraged, including use of Q Bag Tags.
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There will also be hand sanitising stations at departure gates and Qantas lounges which passengers are encouraged to use.
Qantas says there will be temporary changes to lounges, including increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations, enhanced disinfection of surfaces and adjustments to food and drink service.
The airline said that it is working with airports on other safeguards, including regular disinfection of security screening points and installing hygiene screens at airline customer service desks.
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Mask will be provided to all passengers and while they will not be mandatory, everyone will be encouraged to wear them.
Once onboard masks will be provided to all passengers and while not mandatory from a safety point of view, they are recommended to be worn in the interests of everyone’s peace-of-mind.
Qantas said that there will be enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a disinfectant effective against coronaviruses, with a focus on high contact areas like seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets.
Sanitising wipes will be given to all passengers to, if they prefer, wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests themselves.
There will be a simplified service and catering to minimise contact between crew and passengers.
Passengers will also be asked to limit movement around the cabin, once seated and there will be staggered boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding at gates.
In addition, the air conditioning systems of all Qantas and Jetstar aircraft are already fitted with hospital-grade HEPA filters, which remove 99.9% of all particles including viruses. The air inside the cabin is refreshed on average every five minutes during flight.
Qantas adds that all passengers are encouraged to download the Australian Government’s COVIDSafe app as part of improving the ability of health authorities to contain the spread of Coronavirus.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “Safety is absolutely core to how we operate and that applies to new challenges like managing the risk of coronavirus so people can fly with confidence.
“From the early rescue flights we operated right into Wuhan and then more recently bringing Australians back from places like the US and Europe, we have a lot of experience at creating a safe cabin environment for passengers and crew.
“We’re relying on the cooperation of passengers to help make these changes work for everyone’s benefit, and we thank them in advance for that. Given the great job Australians have done at flattening the curve, we’re confident they’ll respond positively to these temporary changes to how we fly.
“We’ll continue to work with government and monitor the rollout of these measures closely, which are designed with safety in mind and help people feel comfortable given the new norms that have emerged in response to the Coronavirus crisis,” added Mr Joyce.
Qantas Group Medical Director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said in a statement: “The data shows that actual risk of catching Coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low. That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier. As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.”
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we’re putting place will reduce the risk even further,” added Dr Hosegood.
The airline group has also made changes to bookings;
Domestic: Customers can book any Qantas or Jetstar Australian domestic flight between 21 May and 30 June 2020, for travel between 12 June and 31 October 2020, and we will waive the change fee one time if you decide to change the date of your travel. Customers will have to cover any fare increase (if relevant) for the new booking.
International flight credit extension: Further flexibility has been introduced for international bookings (excluding Trans-Tasman). Customers with an existing Qantas or Jetstar international flight booking, for travel between 1 August and 31 October 2020, who wish to change their plans, can cancel their booking and retain the full value as a flight credit. Flight credits must be requested by 30 June 2020 and are valid for booking and travel across domestic and international services by 31 December 2021. Jetstar credit vouchers allow up to two years to travel from issue date. Customers will have to cover any fare increase (if relevant) for the new booking.
If a flight is cancelled by Qantas, customers will be rebooked on the next available flight at no additional cost. Alternatively, customers can choose a flight credit or a refund.