Business

Japan's ANA leads way as masks become new normal in virus-era air travel

All Nippon Airways to require passengers to wear face masks inside airports and aboard aircraft

KYODO

One of Japan’s major airlines plans to make the wearing of face masks compulsory as the industry shifts toward operating in a new coronavirus pandemic normal.

From June, All Nippon Airways Co. will require all passengers to wear face masks inside airports and aboard aircraft.

Anyone who refuses will be barred from boarding, meaning ANA is going a step further than an aviation industry body guideline that advises a “request” be made that passengers mask up.

Cabin crew will wear face masks and ground staff will wear face shields as well, it said. Major airlines, including ANA, have also installed plastic curtains at check-in counters.

The aviation industry has been hit hard by the virus pandemic, and many airlines are keen to attract business by eliminating passenger concern about infection, even if it means enforcing stricter measures than recommended.

Japan Airlines Co. and Skymark Airlines Inc. said they will refrain from allocating passengers into adjacent seats to allow some measure of social distancing to be maintained. JAL said the measure is temporary and is aimed at easing people’s concern about coming into close contact with fellow passengers.

JAL will halt sales of adjacent seats until the end of June, while ANA does not take such a measure, as such sales practice may lead to raising airfares.

The International Air Transport Association does not recommend such a measure, saying, “Mask-wearing by passengers and crew will reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.”

It said the risk of virus transmission on aircraft is low compared to other modes of public transport, possibly due to the layout which has passengers all facing forward, airflow rates being high and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters in cabins.

Other airlines around the globe have taken even more drastic steps, with Qatar Airways making flight attendants wear full-body protection suits and the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific Air set to make its attendants take antibody tests for the virus.

Finland’s Finnair PLC has decided to request passengers check-in online to avoid crowding at airports and has ended priority boarding, instead inviting passengers seated at the rear of the plane to board first.

Japanese airlines have yet to announce whether they will implement more stringent anti-virus steps for their international routes that involve longer flight times and therefore an increased risk of infection.

The aviation industry is suffering from a dramatic drop of passengers in the past few months.

During the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May, a record-low number of travelers passed through three major Japanese airports as most airlines suspended flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of travelers during the holiday period between April 24 and May 6 tumbled 99 percent from a year earlier to 12,700 at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, the lowest figure since comparable data became available in 2008.

The number of travelers also plunged 99.1 percent to 5,750 at Haneda Airport in Tokyo and 99.8 percent to 2,150 at Kansai Airport in Osaka Prefecture.

A total of 6,690 people departed from Narita during the period, of whom 850 were Japanese nationals, down 99.8 percent, while 6,030 people, including 4,610 Japanese, arrived at the airport.

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