How I plan to continue flying even as coronavirus spreads globally, using tech
- The spread of coronavirus has lead to a reduction in travel but for some, flying remains a necessity and most flights are still operating as normal.
- Technology has made it easier to avoid human contact at airports which is proving to be vital as COVID-19 spreads globally.
- Mobile boarding passes and near-field communication payment apps greatly reduce unnecessary touching and contact.
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Despite the continued spread of COVID-19 and reported cases of coronavirus, I plan to keep flying and not take financial losses by canceling my scheduled trips.
Though I'm not concerned with contracting the virus while overseas more so than at home, especially as the rising number of reported cases in my home state of New York has led to Governor Cuomo declaring a state of emergency, I will be taking precautions and rely more on travel technologies than before.
Technology has largely reduced the need for human interaction when it comes to air travel. The internet and mobile apps, in particular, have eliminated the need for most human-to-human contact when flying.
The first tech wave came with online check-in and self-serve check-in kiosks where flyers could change seats and print boarding passes without ever speaking to another person. The next evolution came soon afterward with airlines developing mobile applications that gave more power to flyers by allowing them to make changes without access to a computer or having to call the airline.
While the continued improvement of such technology has made for a more seamless travel experience for most, it also has the potential benefit of protecting flyers from the spread of germs that can lead to illnesses such as coronavirus.
Though the demand for air travel has largely declined in recent weeks due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, flights are still going and travelling remains a necessity for many. Airlines have been doing their part in cleaning aircraft and facilities but the human factor remains somewhat uncontrollable.
Here's how to I plan to use technology to master the art of isolation when it comes to flying in the age of coronavirus.
Avoiding the check-in desk and kiosk at the airport by checking-in for flights online
Online check-in and the expansion of mobile airline apps have largely made the airport check-in process obsolete, with passengers being able to select seats and print boarding passes from their homes. Using either of these methods, the need for interacting with a check-in agent or using a check-in kiosk with screens that have been touched by countless travellers.
In most cases, there is nothing that can be done on a check-in kiosk that cannot be done on a mobile app, including changing flights and purchasing checked baggage allowance.
I always check-in online 24 hours before a flight to ensure that all required information is input and I am able to get a seat selection so I don't need to visit an agent at the airport. Notably, I plan to travel with a carry-on bag to avoid checking luggage.
Some cases will require either visiting a check-in kiosk or going to the check-in desk, such as getting a baggage tag if you are checking in luggage. Should a visit to either be required, precautions can be taken including wiping down the kiosk screen with a disinfectant wipe, using gloves, applying hand-sanitiser before and after the experience or washing your hands once the check-in process is complete.
Using my phone for my boarding pass.
Mobile boarding passes have largely rendered paper boarding passes obsolete and the latter is no longer required on most flights, though some exceptions apply for international flights. For most flight bookings, mobile boarding passes are issued directly after the online check-in process and can be kept in a phone's virtual wallet.
Now, mobile boarding passes are making traveller safer by further reducing contact with a machine or person when flying. When travelling with only carry-on bags, the entire airport check-in process is eliminated entirely and passengers can head directly to the security checkpoint in most instances.
Storing items in my bag at the security checkpoint and using as few bins as possible.
When going through security, an easy way to avoid the shared-use bins is by storing items in carry-on luggage, purses, or other bags, and sending it through the x-ray machine. Placing your personal items in multiple bins, which are also used by other travellers, means more exposure to potential germs.
Storing loose belongings such as a phone or wallet in a bag is not only an ideal way to avoid germs but also to spend as little time in the security screening area as possible. Sometimes, I put loose items in the pockets of my coat or jacket, and send them through the x-ray. I also ensure anything remotely metal is removed to avoid a potential pat-down.
Never giving up control of my phone.
Having a mobile boarding pass also gives passengers greater control at both the security checkpoint and boarding gate.
At the security checkpoint, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent will always need to inspect a paper boarding pass, often marking it with a pen. A mobile boarding pass only needs to be scanned, which flyers can do themselves by simply holding the phone over the scanner, with no need for the screener to physically hold the device.
I always keep control of my phone and scan it myself. Sometimes the scanner is passenger-facing and while on some occasions I've had to reach over the kiosk, TSA screeners are aware some passengers have that preference.
When boarding, the procedure for most is to give the printed boarding pass to the gate agent to scan. But with a mobile boarding pass, the agent will likely direct you to place your phone over or under the scanner yourself. Unless there is a problem with scanning the boarding pass, I've never had to give up control of my phone to the boarding agent.
If a flight requires the use of a paper boarding pass, I'll still insist on scanning myself to prevent unnecessary physical interaction.
Using virtual phone wallets or mobile banking when making purchases in the terminal.
Similar to using a mobile boarding pass to board a flight, travellers can use their phones to make purchases at airport restaurants, duty-free shops or newsstands to avoid contact with a cashier if paying with cash or a credit/debit card terminal if paying with a card.
Most smartphones now have virtual wallets that allow users to add their credit cards and pay via their mobile device. For iPhones, the program is called Apple Pay and for Androids, Google has a system called Google Pay.
Both work the same in that they can send credit or debit card information directly to the terminal without the user having to touch anything but their phones. Most retailers accept Apple Pay and Google Pay, further reducing potential contact with germs.
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