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Public Health

What Air Travel Might Look Like Post-COVID-19

DFW Airport has become a laboratory for new technologies designed to keep air travelers safe amidst a pandemic
By Peter Simek |
DFW Airport

Here’s an unexpected side-effect of the COVID-19 crisis: Dallas-Fort Worth Airport has become the world’s busiest airport during the pandemic thanks to American Airlines’ strategy of re-routing much of its current flying through the hub. Now, DFW Airport is serving as a laboratory to test ways of re-imagining what air travel might look like in the wake of COVID. What this looks like, generally, is as much touchless technology as possible.

The airport began implementing some of these new technologies last year, and you may have already experienced in your travels the biometic boarding kiosks that scan your face in lieu of your boarding pass on international departures. In an interview with Reuters, Sean Donohue, chief executive of Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, said the airport is using the lull in international travel to test this technology on arriving international passengers as well.

DFW Airport is also exploring vendors for a new luggage self-check in system, and Donohue says the goal is to make all of the airport’s bathrooms entirely touchless, with maintenance workers being alerted of low bathroom supplies via special sensors.

“One of the biggest complaints airports receive are restrooms,” Donohue said.

The airport is also rolling out a few strategies that sound more satisfyingly sci-fi. They are using ultraviolet technology in an attempt to kill germs before they enter the airports HVAC system, and they have deployed a “hit team” of 150 employees armed with “electrostatic foggers” that roll through terminals sanitizing surfaces. And employees are subject to touchless temperature checks, though, baring a federal mandate, the airport will not expand these temperature checks to passengers.

But the most noticeable long-term changes, one industry analyst suggests, will reflect changes not in technology, but in behavior:

Michael Davies, who runs the New Technology Ventures program at London Business School, said technology will be one of many changes to the airport experience going forward, with fewer overall travelers who will be seeking more space and spending less time dining and shopping.

“You put these things together and this feels in some interesting ways very much like back to the golden age of air travel,” said Davies.


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