The global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will last long after the virus subsides. The travel industry, in particular, will undergo some substantial changes in response to the outbreak. Changes have already spread throughout the sector, and these will likely continue even after coronavirus.
Large-scale disasters always impact safety measures, especially in vulnerable industries. When you look at airport security before 9/11, it doesn’t seem like anything compared to today’s standards. Given the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry will more than likely react similarly.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has already seen 534 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its employees. Figures like this highlight how ill-equipped the industry is to handle a global pandemic. As these shortcomings and needs become more evident, safety protocols will shift to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Increased Security and Sanitation
Fewer people are traveling now, following health guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease. The TSA reports that current air passenger numbers are as low as 6% of what they were last year. Even with fewer passengers, though, safety agencies are adjusting their protocols.
Like many other organizations, the TSA has implemented social distancing regulations. They’ve reorganized their checkpoints to keep everyone at least six feet apart from one another. While this specific regulation may disappear with the virus, the TSA could continue to regulate crowds more closely.
Many airports partner with private security firms to acquire physical protection and training in case of an emergency. This trend could grow in response to the virus as federal agencies realize how underprepared they may be. The COVID-19 outbreak could raise questions about the threat of biological terrorism, leading to heightened security.
On top of further physical security measures, the travel industry will take public health more seriously. Government authorities and private companies alike will increase their sanitation to prevent future disease outbreaks. It’s become evident that cleanliness and safety may be more closely linked than travel companies have thought.
The need for increased sanitation is especially evident in public transportation. On May 6, for the first time in 115 years, New York deliberately shut down their subway system for thorough cleaning. You can see how unsanitary public transportation may be, so taking the time for deep cleaning may become standard practice.
The Rising Role of Technology
As security and sanitation in transportation grow, technology will play a more significant role in both. The outbreak has revealed some limitations to current safety and cleanliness measures. Technology provides an answer to several areas of needed improvement.
The most obvious, and perhaps most dire, application of technology in travel safety is medical screening. UAE-based Etihad Airways recently announced the implementation of self-service medical kiosks to identify passengers with health issues. These devices monitor factors like temperature and heart rate to detect possible symptoms.
With tools like that, transportation authorities could protect their passengers from contagious diseases. They could also offer assistance to those traveling with medical needs. The post-COVID travel world will likely involve widespread use of similar systems.
Touchless screening is essential to preventing the spread of disease. Technologies like facial recognition and scanners that sense biological threats may replace current systems as a result. Tech not only offers more rigorous screening processes but remote ones as well, which is ideal for public health.
Cleaning technology will also likely see a rise in adoption. Transportation companies may not have enough employees to carry out higher sanitation standards. Autonomous cleaning bots, on the other hand, can ensure subways, buses and airplanes are clean without needing extra staff.
Retailers like Walmart are already using robots to clean their floors, a trend that could spread into transportation. These technologies often work faster than people can, too. With that advantage, systems like the New York subways wouldn’t have to shut down for as long to clean.
Tomorrow’s Travel Won’t Be the Same
It’s uncertain what the future of transportation safety will look like, but it certainly won’t look the same. You’ve probably heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s no different for this industry. As the COVID-19 outbreak reveals needs, transportation authorities will adjust to meet them.
If transportation safety goes back to the way it was, it will have the same weaknesses. The industry will instead move forward, adopting new technology and protocols to improve safety. Travel tomorrow may look entirely different, which is likely for the better.