By Isaac Atoyebi
The resumption of domestic flights in Nigeria came as a huge relief to air travellers who have gone through traumatic experiences as the lockdown due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic had difficult socio-economic consequences, and forced the airlines to suspend operations since March 27, 2020.
However, it is important to note that not many air travellers are eager to resume air travel even as Nigeria continues to record new cases of the novel coronavirus.
Recently, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released a public opinion research showing the willingness to travel being tempered by concerns over the risks of catching COVID-19 during air travel.
The research revealed that more that 58% of those surveyed said that they have avoided air travel, with 33% suggesting that they will avoid travels in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.
Another 66% said they would travel less for leisure and business in the post-pandemic world and 64% indicated that they would postpone travel until economic factors improved personal and broader.
Although, the resumption of air travels is still at the early stages, the events on ground show that passengers are concerned about their safety as the airports and airlines are witnessing low passenger traffic. There have also been reports of multiple cancellations of flights due to low passenger traffic.
Mrs. Elsa Bankole, a Business Consultant,expresses her concerns on resuming air travels. “I am not confident enough to resume traveling because I don’t believe it’s safe. I can’t expose myself, I don’t know anything about the person I’d be sitting next to in the bus on my way to the aircraft or even onboard the aircraft.”
Another traveler expresses worry over the rest rooms. Mr. Shola John, a Business Man, states: “I’m definitely not confident about resuming air travels because I don’t trust that the shared facilities such as the restrooms in the airport and on the plane will be thoroughly cleaned and managed to prevent crowding and the spread of the virus.”
There is also skepticism over the safety measures painstakenly put in place by airlines and aviation institutions. Miss Oluniyi Kofoworola, a Student, says: “I am not confident because I don’t trust that proper safety measures in terms of social distancing,wearing of face masks and thorough cleaning of shared facilities will be adhered to. How will the social distancing in the airplane work? Will there be empty seats between passengers? And who will pay for those?”
Furthermore, Mr Busayo Ojo, a surveyor, says he is not so confident because being on the plane would mean breathing in the same air as others.
“It has been advised to keep an open window policy so as to curtail the spread of the virus and that is highly impossible in an airplane,” Mr Ojo notes.
Despite the fear and concerns of some passengers, not all is gloom and doom for air travel as some business travelers and leisure travelers express readiness to return to air travels whenever the need arises.
Mr. Joe Ogundele, a Senior Tech Expert, commends the effort of the Nigerian government on various safety protocols put in place to protect travelers. He expresses his readiness to resume traveling by air.”I am confident and ready to resume travelling by air, I don’t think flying for an hour is too much of a risk. I travel a lot and the best way for me to do this is to travel by air.”
“I’m glad that I can now resume traveling by air, because my business has suffered a bit from not being able to move around,” Mr. Ogundele states.
Miss Aniyi Tirenioluwa, a leisure traveler, notes: “I’m happy with the news and I already have trips planned out but I will carefully observe the safety measure put in place against the COVID-19 pandemic. I will try to maintain social distancing from other passengers, frequentlywashing and sanitizing my hands onboard and at the airports.”
Similarly, Mr. Tolulope Ogunjuyigbe, a Digital Marketer, says he believes that traveling by air is safe. According to him, his only concern is a crowded plane and wouldn’t mind paying for an empty seat next to him.
Reacting to the measures put in place by the airport authorities, Miss Vera Onwuchekwa, a Finance Analyst, says: “I think the Nigeria Airport Authority did a great job with the measures; it’s quite impressive that they are putting the passenger’s safety first. The only question I have is,’will they be able to sustain these measures?’ I have been to the Abuja Airport and I saw the good job they did there.”
Another leisure traveler, Miss Jesutofunmi Soremekun, says: “I am confident and eager to resume travelling by air. I have been following FAAN’s update on twitter for months and I’m quite impressed with what they have achieved so far.”
“I believe that if we adhere to the protocols put in place by FAAN, there won’t be any serious incident or cases of infection and everything would be under control,” Miss Soremekun adds.
Some of the concerns raised by air travelers as regards social distancing onboard the aircraft have been allayed by IATA. The air transport association had earlier stated that the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter on the aircraft offer a level of performance similar to those used to keep air clean in hospital surgical rooms.
According to IATA, the filter removes 99.99 per cent of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria. A constant downward wash of air at 1 meter/sec reduces the risk of cross-contamination.
“Air from the cabin is cleaned in the AC unit and in its HEPA filters; this clean recycled air is then mixed with fresh air from outside in the mixing unit and the pure, clean air is then passed into the cabin and circulates downwards to repeat the process,” says IATA.
Despite the assurance from IATA that passengers are safe onboard the aircraft, it may take some time for people to overcome the current fear. The airlines have a huge role to play in sensitizing customers and assuring them of their safety onboard the aircraft.
There are indications and expectations that government may open the air borders for international flights by October. The attitude to flying would be shaped by the trend of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and other countries.