We Asked Experts What Travel Might Look Like Post-COVID
Spoiler alert: It looks a lot like a sci-fi movie.
It’s no surprise that the travel industry has been slammed pretty hard with the coronavirus pandemic. Even with the number of coronavirus cases calming down in some states, a lot of people are still hesitant to fly—and for people who do choose to travel, there is a long list of new precautions that travelers need to take, including the use of face masks during the airport screening process and maintaining six feet apart at checkpoints. As the travel industry rapidly adapts to these evolving sanitary requirements, there is still a giant question mark when it comes to how the travel experience will be affected long-term. We looked into the future—with the help of Dave Thomson, senior technology expert for leading travel company Skyscanner—to predict what your next post-coronavirus vacation might look like.
The worst part about any airport—hands down—is the arduous security process. Well, this will come as good news to frequent fliers: According to Thomson, “Airport queues could become by-appointment-only to stop overcrowding. Montréal-Trudeau International Airport has already begun asking passengers to book their own security screenings, eliminating the need for a line.” However, this could go one step further. Thomson predicts that luggage screening of the future could be done by different kinds of computer vision systems, eventually removing the need for a centralized security screen entirely (and those painfully long security lines).
Considering the rugged adventure that your luggage is put through at the airport, it makes sense that they should have to go through a more rigorous sanitizing process. Thomson says that luggage may have to be spray-disinfected and tagged on the check-in belt before being placed on the plane. As for your carry-on luggage, they could be sanitized via UV rays or fogging while in the X-ray security machine. You can already see this in Singapore’s Changi Airport, where they’ve implemented the sanitization of trolleys, check-in kiosks, and security trays with a long-lasting antimicrobial coating to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
“With effective health testing incorporated into the security process, detecting viruses during travel could become a reality,” says Thomson. In fact, temperature checks are becoming the norm for travelers going through international airports. South Korea’s Incheon International Airport is deploying temperature-taking robots in solo kiosks, while thermal screening in Hamad International Airport, Qatar, is implemented by robotics and special helmets. While it may sound like something out of a sci-fi/horror movie, this robot takeover is a good thing in our current situation: The more robots and automated technology there are, the lesser need there is for human contact throughout the security and health screening process.
Keeping with the robot theme, disinfection robots have also started sprouting up in various airports across the world. “No matter how much airport sanitization takes place, there’s an element of human transmission that can be eradicated by the use of cleaning robots,” says Thomson. “Hong Kong International Airport was the first to trial full-body disinfection booths and Intelligent Sanitization Robots, capable of killing 99.99% of bacteria and viruses in the air. Cleaning robots are deployed throughout Singapore’s Changi Airport, using a misting attachment to disinfect carpets after vacuuming.”
Touchless tech—which would use biometrics to verify bookings and identity—could very well be in the near future. This advanced technology would mean increased mobile boarding passes and a transition towards iris scans and AI facial recognition, as opposed to scanning passports and IDs. “These sort of boarding practises are already being implemented by Delta and are being tested by others, including United Airlines, says Thomson. “Biometrics testing is underway at airports in Canada, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain.”
It seems like almost everything is turning into AI these days, and not too surprisingly, security systems are not far behind. According to Thomson, the changing landscape of travel tech due to COVID-19 has accelerated the implementation of AI in airports. With this new implementation, advanced body scans could be used to detect threats, like explosives and firearms. “Japan’s Finance Ministry is already investing in this kind of technology,” says Thomson. “The ministry aims to introduce an AI-based system over the next 10 years that will detect contraband via AI-analyzed X-ray images.”
So now that you got out of the robot-populated, AI-driven airport, let’s talk about hotels. Chances are that the TV remote is one of the first things that you touch when getting into your new room. You really can’t trust the hotel to have disinfected everything before you got there, so it’s always best to degerm the hotel room before settling in. To make things easier, Thomson says that guests will be able to control the entertainment in their room by using their smartphone: “It may be that guests can gain access to the system by scanning a QR code or similar from the in-room TV, which would then unlock a remote-control app on their phone—and when they check out, it automatically disables.”
Once you’re officially in your new destination, you’re probably going to want a means of transportation. According to Thomson, the car rental industry is going to great lengths to ensure that this process is as risk-free as possible by investing in “self-unlocking” vehicles that don’t require keys to be passed from person to person. “Rental company Sixt has made it possible for customers to order, collect, and deliver a car without direct contact with its staff. There are already mobile-controlled unlocking systems on the market which allow a car to be unlocked via its app.” If you are going to be using a rental car (which might be safer than tanking an Uber in high-risk areas), make sure to do some prior research to find out which service is best for you, in addition to cleaning the car and staying safe on the road.