Here are all the ways airports are trying to make flying feel safe during the pandemic

By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Temperature checks are not a silver bullet: Health experts say people can spread the virus while showing few or no symptoms.

Virtual queuingTo avoid crowds and long lines, which can increase the risk of exposure to the virus, consortium members want to persuade travelers to use a smartphone app to book an arrival time at the airport, along with a time to get in line at the security screening checkpoints and a time to arrive at the gate. The scheduling system, which has yet to be adopted, is intended to improve the flow of passengers through Transportation Security Administration lines and other choke points.

Passengers would also be able to reserve seats at their gates. Travelers who make such reservations will get to wait for their flights in seats that will be set aside from other passengers or separated by a barrier, Weston said.

"This relies on technology and smart design," she said.

Upgraded ventilation systemsConsortium members also say airports can reduce the risk of viral spread by increasing airflow in terminals and by upgrading existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems so that air passes under ultraviolet light to kill airborne viruses.

Paula J. Olsiewski, an expert on indoor environment and a biochemist at the nonprofit Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, agrees that such changes, coupled with strict enforcement of mask-wearing, can make a difference.

She noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend increasing ventilation in buildings.

"Most HVAC systems can be adjusted to increase the amount of outdoor air flowing into the facility, and reduce or eliminate the amount of recirculated air," Olsiewski said.

Touchless and self-serve systemsFacial recognition technology that has already been tested to confirm the identity of international travelers should also be used on domestic travelers, reducing the need for travelers to come in close contact with security officers or airline employees to confirm their identity or boarding status, said Gary McDonald, president of Materna Americas, a technology and software company and member of the consortium.


If the airlines and government agencies share data on who is flying, airports could create a facial recognition system that would allow travelers to zip through the airport without stopping, he said.

"They can have the cameras look at you, verify it's you, a gate opens and you go to your plane," he said. "We're not talking about technology that is 20 years away. It's here."

Also, kiosks that dispense boarding passes and spit out luggage tags could be connected to a passenger's smartphone via wireless internet, allowing travelers to operate them from their smartphone screens. That would eliminate the need to touch the kiosks, McDonald said.

At LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal, a dozen touchless check-in kiosks were tested during a 30-day trial period in September.

At O'Hare, Spirit Airlines installed a system that lets air travelers drop off their luggage without coming in contact with an airline employee.

Members of the consortium said the success of the group's effort depends on the cooperation of many private and public players.

"We see that many of the airports are all looking at the same things to get through this COVID crisis," said Erbacci, who oversees one of the nation's busiest airports. "Rather than go different ways, it made sense to work together toward identifying innovations that can help us get through this."

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