By RAHIMI YUNUS
A RECORD high of over 100 million passengers travelled through 39 airports across Malaysia last year.
KL International Airport (KLIA) alone received over 60 million passengers — a first for the country’s main international gateway to handle such a volume since its opening in 1998.
Malaysia is among the world’s top visited countries and has cemented its position as a leading aviation hub in Asia.
This year however, the world is facing an unprecedented challenge from the spread of the coronavirus.
Anxiety has gripped air travellers while airlines and airport operators are dealing with major disruptions due to the pandemic.
As the first entry points into the country, airports are stepping up prevention and protection measures against Covid-19 not only for passengers but also for its staff.
As the nation galvanises a concerted effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, the safety, security and health of air passengers and staff remain top priorities for airport operators. Refined security screening, passenger handling, additional infection control measures and effective communications have been put in place to protect every- one in this extraordinary time.
At the onset of the virus outbreak, Malaysia Airports gave the Health Ministry (MoH) its full support in placing sophisticated thermal scanners at its airports. Manual temperature screening is also being carried out by its personnel on all inbound international passengers.
The thermal scanners used by MOH to carry out the temperature screening are highly sensitive and able to detect body temperature from a long-range, thus allowing health workers to maintain social distance. These thermal scanners are located at strategic locations along the arrival flow of both terminals at KL International Airport.
Screening is done diligently and passengers with a body temperature of above 37.5 degrees Celsius will be further checked.
Those with symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath will be immediately referred to Hospital Sungai Buloh. All other passengers are sent straight to quarantine centres for 14 days. Those in quarantine are given health alert cards by MoH that will advise them on the next course of action should they start to show symptoms.
For outbound passengers, body temperature screening was put in place on March 23. The airport operator has placed thermal scanners before the check-in counters at the departure halls. Only departing passengers, staff and crew with a body temperature below 37.5 degrees Celsius are allowed to pass through.
No senders and greeters are allowed into the check-in areas except for one guardian for children or passengers needing special assistance. Departing passengers who are denied entry will need to inform their respective airlines and are recommended to immediately go to a clinic or hospital for a health check.
Additionally, Malaysia Airports also installed numerous digital notices to convey travel health and safety-related information to increase traveller awareness on the virus pandemic and preventive measures.
Maintaining airport hygiene
Malaysia Airports continues to carry out stringent sanitisation and disinfection activities that are aimed at killing or inactivating harmful bacteria, cysts and other pathogenic microorganisms.
Airport personnel are continuously cleaning high-touch areas including the travelator and escalator handrails, lift buttons, passenger trolleys, bag trays, washrooms, check-in counters, public seating benches, gate lounges, buggies, wheelchairs and strollers.
“We have been wearing disposable gloves out on jobs to protect ourselves and keep our standards as high as they have always been,” said Nor Haslina, a general worker. Staff on the frontline in maintaining hygiene have significantly increased vigilance and are working in shifts round the clock to continuously sanitise the common amenities and facilities at the airports.
Another general worker, Rajib, said it was such a new experience for him in dealing with the situation. “We have to respond to things as and when they happen too,” he added.
Malaysia Airports has also put in place measures to maintain social distancing in line with the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) by the government which began on March 18. One- metre gap markers are indicated on airport floors at the check-in, immigration and customs queueing areas as part of efforts to facilitate social distancing.
Lifts, benches and airport shuttle buses also have social distancing markers.
Considered an essential service to the public, especially for cargo flights, Malaysia Airports’ network of 39 airports will continue to operate as usual during the MCO period. While sufficient on-ground staff have been deployed to keep operations and services running at high levels of standards at the airports, all administrative staff who are not involved in day-to-day operations have been tasked to work from home.
Apart from mandatory daily temperature screening, Malaysia Airports has replaced its fingerprint scanning with card scanning, enabling contactless staff access into secured areas within the airport area.
Meanwhile, other airport stakeholders such as the Malaysian Immigration Department are also strictly enforcing travel prohibitions outlined under the MCO for all departing and arriving passengers.
For retail outlets at the airports that are considered essential services such as supermarkets and convenience stores selling essential items, they remain open as usual. Food and beverage outlets are also open, offering takeaway service only with no dine-ins allowed.
Taking care of stranded passengers
Since the MCO began, there have been cases of stranded passengers at KLIA due to the restrictions or travel bans imposed by other countries. These stranded passengers are mainly transit passengers whose connecting flights to their destination countries have been cancelled or foreign passengers who had left Malaysia during the MCO but were sent back to KLIA after being denied entry at their destination countries.
The airport community and the respective airlines have been collectively doing their best to take care of and ensure the wellbeing of these stranded passengers.
Malaysia Airports is helping the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the respective foreign embassies to compile the details of stranded passengers for further action and repatriation back to their home countries.
Airlines have also been providing meals and check-in offers to a transit hotel facility located on the airside such as Sama-Sama Express KLIA.
While Sama-Sama Express in klia2 is currently closed for operations, the Capsule Transit Airport Hotel in klia2 has offered its facilities to stranded passengers, free of charge. Apart from that, the airport operator is also distributing #MYAirportCARES comfort kit comprising a sleeping bag, toiletries and snacks to these stranded passengers for their convenience and comfort during this COVID-19 pandemic.
To avoid being stranded at airports, it is advisable for all travellers to check whether they are allowed to enter their respective destination countries according to travel advisories before buying flight tickets.
Additionally, travellers should also check with their respective airlines on connecting flight availability and reconfirm the flight time as there may be changes or cancellations to the flights due to border restrictions.