A normally routine Monday morning flight from Gatwick to Glasgow became an important milestone for the UK aviation industry. The 7am flight out of London, 15 June, will be remembered as the moment when Anglo-Scottish flights flickered back to life after an 11-week layoff.
The 51 masked passengers, scattered aboard the 186-seat A320 Airbus, may have resembled the cast of a sinister movie, but they represented the near-future for domestic air travel: almost empty planes, whose occupants must abide by strict health guidelines.
Face masks are compulsory throughout flights and there are strict regulations for visitig the toilet. There is no inflight catering – only drinking water.
Since easyJet’s 344 planes were grounded on 29 March and its staff furloughed it has been burning through £5m a day. Along with the other big domestic carriers – BA and Ryanair – returning to the skies as soon as possible is the difference between survival and being grounded for good.
UK guidelines still ban all but essential travel, so it was no surprise that the first flight of easyJet’s new reduced schedule was made up principally of off-duty staff.
Other Scottish airports are slowly reopening and hoping to put a dent into massive losses when they have been near-silent, save for cargo planes and those re-patriating citizens caught overseas when the lockdown was imposed.
Edinburgh, now Scotland’s busiest airport and which has been on an ever-rising growth path in recent years, has been losing £3.5 million per month.
It has been handling a mere six flights per day and an average of just 300 passengers, compared to the normal June average of 50,000.
It has launched a campaign and range of measures to help passengers and staff prepare for the return of travel.
The ‘let’s all flysafe’ campaign is part of the airport’s readiness programme as airlines begin to restart operations aimed at providing confidence and reassurance to those travelling through and working at the airport.
Measures introduced include one-way colour-coded systems to manage flow and social distancing, hand sanitising stations inside and outside the airport, as well as protective screens at check-in, security and arrivals.
There is a trial of temperature checking technology for departing passengers. Staff wear face coverings and PPE in passenger-facing areas. Enhanced cleaning schedules have been introduced, and new fogging machines to disinfect trollies and wheelchairs
The campaign will be backed by new signage clearly explaining to people where they need to go. Social media graphics will be used to prepare people ahead of arriving at the airport, while emails containing the same messaging will be sent to the contacts database.
The airport has introduced five general rules for travellers to follow, essentially advising them not to travel if they feel ill, and to follow the social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines.
The introduction of the campaign and enhanced measures comes as airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair, Loganair, Wizz and BA reintroduce parts of their schedule.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive at Edinburgh Airport, said: “We know how important it is to provide passengers with reassurance and confidence as they look to return to travel and we’ve spent a lot of time looking at how we do that by making improvements to our operation.
“The steps we have taken will allow people to get moving safely and reopen our economy by providing that connectivity that our airlines are rebuilding. We all have a part to play in this recovery and we must make sure we do that by encouraging people to flysafe.”
We’ll continue to evaluate our approach as we go forward, and we encourage people to provide feedback and help us all flysafe
Adam Wilson, operations director at Edinburgh Airport said: “Although we never want to see a near empty airport, we’ve utilised the time to closely look at the terminal and surrounding areas and come up with a plan to protect everyone as much as possible.
“We know the layout is different and we know it will take time to adapt to it, but we believe the campaign and measures are the right thing for our airport and our passengers. We’re effectively welcoming people into our home and these changes are our way of providing them with confidence and reassurance, letting them know we care about and them and their journeys.
“We’ll continue to evaluate our approach as we go forward, and we encourage people to provide feedback and help us all flysafe.”
One contentious issue still to be resolved is the Home Secretary’s controversial quarantine restrictions.
Priti Patel stipulated that almost all arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals must self-isolate at home for two weeks.
easyJet’s CEO Johan Lundgren speaks for the industry when he says that he hopes quarantine will be replaced by ‘air bridges’ with countries with a low risk of contagion.
The generally-held view is that this may take place at the end of the month, which will make it possible for some to take a foreign holiday.
In the meantime, domestic travel is slowly getting used to a new era which will see a host of restrictions that will be made more tolerable by the vastly lower number of passengers. Checking in and getting through security will never be so easy, but the journey will be more expensive and not feel quite so comfortable.