A host of measures including the mandatory wearing of gloves and masks are to be introduced as authorities gear up to allow air travel.
As the world slowly comes to terms with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and learns to adjust to life with social distancing protocols, Turkey is aiming to reopen two of its busiest airports.
The new Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gokcen International, which is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, will once again start handling passenger traffic from May 28 albeit with strict restrictions which will force people to change their habits.
The two airports together handled more than 90 million passengers and hundreds of thousands of flights last year. But travel restrictions have led to a 41.3 percent year-on-year decrease in passenger numbers in the first four months of this year, according to the General Directorate of the State Airports Authority.
Initially, the airports will handle only domestic flights. As per the plan to ensure safe travel, everyone entering the airport premises will be required to wear face masks and gloves.
One thing that’s going to dramatically alter the travelling experience is that authorities have decided to stop relatives from coming to airports.
While the measure is meant to avoid overcrowding, it will force people to adjust to a lonely departure and forgo seeing the faces of their loved ones when they come out of the terminal.
Istanbul Airport’s CEO Kadri Samsunlu told CNN Turk that wearing masks and gloves is mandatory for the passengers and many of the staff at the airport. Thermal scanners to monitor the temperature of the people will be used at various locations.
Special mats, which can disinfect shoes, will be placed around the airport, he said.
Moreover, passengers travelling via Istanbul Airport have to disclose their destination. Turkish cities have been divided into risk zones and passengers from the high and low-risk zones will use separate terminals.
Similarly, people who eat at airport restaurants will be made to maintain the required distance from each other.
Istanbul Airport has already been cleaning air filters and ventilation ducts on a regular basis as part of its efforts to fight the pandemic.
Another important change that passengers might find difficult to come to terms with is what they are allowed to take in their carry-on luggage.
Under the new rules, only baby care products, laptops and ladies’ handbags can be taken onboard, Ersel Goral, CEO of Sabiha Gokcen, said.
“Also, liquids such as cologne and disinfectants that have a high rate of alcohol will be allowed to be taken on the plane, provided they are under 100 millilitres (3.38 ounces).”
A necessary inconvenience
Istanbul is a key tourist destination with millions of people visiting the former seat of the Ottoman Empire every year. But with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting travel, the number of tourists has dropped drastically.
Airports around the world are deliberating ways to restore confidence in air travel. From disinfection tunnels to all-biometric check-ins to a security check by appointments, different solutions are being considered.
Global passenger traffic in March dropped more than 52.9 percent compared to the same month a year ago, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
IATA, in collaboration with other civil aviation authorities, has already issued detailed guidelines on how to disinfect terminals and keep the employees safe.
Tourism accounts for 12 percent of the Turkish economy, with more than 2.5 million workers affiliated with the industry.
From the roadside vendors who sell smoked chestnuts to owners of small Kampir outlets at the famous Ortakoy Sahil, tourism plays a crucial role in the economy.
Last year, 51.8 million tourists visited Turkey, fetching more than $34.5 billion in revenue. In March 2020, the number of tourists dropped by more than 50 percent, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.
Tom Jenkins, CEO of the London-based European Tourism Association, says social distancing is going to make it very tricky when it comes to managing the airports.
“It's hard to imagine how an industry that relies on airports and airlines can function with social distancing restrictions,” he told TRT World last week.