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The US Department of Transport has issued a guidance document–‘Runway to Recovery‘–to airports and airlines on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

The hopeful document goes into detail on measures to protect the travelling public. The recommendations include:

  • Limiting the number of seats sold on a flight
  • Contact tracing—involving the collection of contact information from passengers
  • Use of sanitisers
  • Social distancing at airports
  • The wearing of face masks
  • Regular disinfection of common areas
  • The use of gloves.

JFK © Flickr

The guidelines come as the number of infections in some states of the US is increasing rapidly, and the European Union and the UK having temporarily excluded visitors from America.

There’s no doubt that the production of the guidelines has been done with the best possible intention. However, the document has come under intense criticism for several reasons, the chief of which is that none of the provisions is enforceable.

JFK NYC ©Flickr

At a massive 43 pages, the guidelines are easy to ignore. Even before its publication, two of the US’s biggest carriers, United and American announced they would fully book flights, leaving no seats vacant.  They will not return to socially distant seating and offer penalty-free rebooking as recommended without legal obligation. Neither will the smaller airports implement all the recommended measures unless forced.

At this point in the pandemic, the relaxation of restrictions is a delicate balance between the public health implications and economic considerations. Nowhere is this more difficult to find than with air travel being both a primary vehicle for the spread of the virus and a massive financial investment. The DoT publication does little to help find that balance.

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