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Jakarta Post

Airlines seek to assuage passenger concerns with new health protocol

  • Riza Roidila Mufti¬†

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, June 11, 2020   /   02:41 pm
Airlines seek to assuage passenger concerns with new health protocol Passengers prepare to check in at Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, on May 7. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Airlines are seeking to regain passengers' confidence to fly through the enforcement of health protocol during the “new normal” period as the industry seeks to recover from the pandemic.

The aviation health protocol is based on Circular No. 13/2020 issued recently by the Transportation Ministry, which also refers to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) recent guidance, covering mandatory procedures from pre-flight to post-flight to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

The measures include physical distancing, intensified cleaning and sanitation inside the aircraft, the use of face covering, disinfection of areas with potential human contact, health screening and more. The new protocol is intended to provide safety for passengers as the government relaxes the large-scale social restriction (PSBB) and reopens the economy.

The circular could help regain people’s trust to travel again, Indonesian National Air Carriers Association (INACA) chairman Denon Prawiraatmadja said.

“In principal, there are two things that can restore passengers’ confidence in traveling. First, it depends on how the Health Ministry and COVID-19 task force can reduce the transmission of COVID cases, and the second [aspect] is how airlines and each operator in aviation can provide security and safety for passengers,” he said on a press briefing on Tuesday.

The pandemic has severely impacted the aviation industry, hitting demand for air travel and forcing airlines to ground their fleets as losses mount.

However, Denon warned that the high number of COVID-19 cases will likely to hold passengers from travelling.

The recent relaxation of the PSBB measures come at a time when COVID-19 cases in Indonesia have continued to increase, with 1,241 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, surpassing the all-time-high of the previous day. The new cases bring the total to more than 34,300.

National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia president director Irfan Setiaputra also pledged to prioritize the health aspect in its flights, citing that this was currently the most important consideration for passengers.

With the new protocol, the airline conducts routine disinfection on its aircraft, while reduces physical interaction on board. It has also switched to using disposable food packaging and water bottles for its in-flight meals to prevent indirect transmission through contaminated surfaces and objects.

“We want to make sure that passengers can fly safely,” Irfan said on Tuesday.

Garuda also boasts the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) technology on its fleet to ensure the removal of contaminants in the air circulating inside the plane.

There will also be a rapid test service to equip passengers who have not been tested prior to the scheduled flight, he added.

The new regulation increases the allowed passanger number per flight to 70 percent of the respective aircraft’s capacity, up from previously 50 percent, opening the possibility for airlines to get additional revenue.

However, Irfan said, the move would not immediately boost Garuda's revenue, as the demand might not recover in short-term.

Garuda’s flight traffic dipped 83 percent year-on-year (yoy) in the January to April period, while its number of passengers plummeted by 45 percent yoy, according to the company’s recent statement.

Other airline, such as Lion Air Group, have also begun to resumed flights on June 10, after temporarily suspending operations on June 5.

In its statement, Lion Air Group spokesperson Danang Mandala Prihantoro reminded passengers to adhere to health protocol such as using masks before the flight, during the boarding process and until they leave the airport, as well as maintaining physical distancing in the airport.

The government claimed that the new health protocol for the aviation industry covered all aspects in detail.

“For example, for in-flight [protocol], we regulate how passengers interact with other passengers and with crew members, and how cabin crews serve meals,” Transportation Ministry Civil Aviation Director General Novie Riyanto said.

Meanwhile, aviation observer Arista Atmadjati said that while the health protocol might add costs for airlines, the procedures were necessary to protect passengers and workers.

“The [airlines’] homework now is to disseminate this information to passengers, because based on my observation, the dissemination process of the regulation is still weak, as many passengers are still misinformed,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, adding that the airlines should utilize available technology to do so.