If 2020 was represented by one image, it would most certainly include an individual wearing a face mask. Although the use of face masks as a safety precaution has, unfortunately, been a politicized topic in some places around the world, by now it should be common knowledge that wearing a face mask or covering helps to inhibit the spread of COVID-19.
Winter has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, and with the cold weather comes a warning from researchers that COVID-19 outbreaks could worsen, especially in areas that do not have the spread of the virus currently under control. What we have is a scenario where acting locally and thinking globally could make matters better, but it remains to be seen if more people will take responsibility for the things they can do personally to limit the spread of the virus and wear a mask.
The outbreaks are affecting many different areas across the globe and infections have been on the rise for the last couple of months and, in some cases, it has been dangerously exponential. This continues to affect the travel industry, especially airports, with most European ones at just a fraction of their usual traffic levels for this time of year.
While multiple medical research teams are making headway with promising vaccines, the main question remains: what does this mean for the travel industry now and in the future?
Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that all passengers and employees on airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share automobiles should wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They also called for face coverings at transportation hubs like airports and train stations. Airlines, Amtrak, and most public transit systems already require all passengers and employees to wear face masks or face coverings, as do most airports and ride-share organizations like Lyft and Uber.
In the United States, however, any opportunity to mandate mask-wearing and send a clear message at a national level (such as a mandate from Congress) ended back in July when the White House decided that legislation mandating all airline, train and public transit passengers and employees to wear masks was too restrictive and the necessary decisions should be left to states, local governments, transportation systems, and public health leaders.
As national mandates are not currently in place in much of the world, there are many people who have decided to not wear a mask. In Norway, officials argue that the costs of mandating such a rule outweigh the benefits. They claim that two hundred thousand people on average would have to wear masks in order to prevent a single COVID-19 case. In the UK, less than one fifth of residents surveyed said they always wear a mask when they go out in public.
Masking up is just one step in the new travel journey as passengers move throughout the airport, with other steps including:
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the body responsible for civil aviation safety, advised that when physical distancing is not possible because of infrastructure or operational constraints, carriers and airport operators should implement additional risk-mitigation actions such as hand sanitizing measures and face masks.
Face mask detection technology has been popping up in retail shops and grocery stores for the past few months but using this type of technology in airports to monitor compliance has not been widely considered yet.
There are many benefits to leveraging this type of solution, however. More people are travelling as the holiday season quickly approaches, which tends to mean busier airports and more congestion. It is still so important to instill confidence in passengers who are travelling and give them the peace of mind that the airport cares about their health and safety.
Face mask detection can also be useful at terminal entrances or at self-boarding gates. With a simple integration between the detection technology and gate technology, if the passenger is not wearing a mask, they could be denied entrance to board or prompted to put a mask on.
Face mask policies have only become stricter on airlines and in airports. Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines have banned more than 900 passengers for not wearing masks.
Now, you might be wondering why there’s such a debate on the effectiveness of face masks. Consider the history of the seat belt: there was actually a time when seat belts did not legally have to be worn and – like face masks today – some people pushed back on seat belt mandates at first. A majority of people said being forced to wear them was against their personal freedom and that seat belts were not 100% effective.
Putting a philosophical discussion on the meaning of personal freedom aside, would you drive a car without a seat belt in this day in age? Would you want to be a passenger in a car without one?
The bottom line is that while no mask will make anyone invincible, wearing one will help to keep you and those around you safe.
The more people wearing masks, the more people who are safe.