by RAHIMI YUNUS
AS AIRPORTS have upped the ante in the fight against COVID-19, passengers are complying and embracing the new normal of air travel for the greater good.
The virus pandemic has brought unprecedented changes in the way people travel. A trip now involves social distancing, wearing a face mask, body temperature screening and additional procedures during pre and post flight.
Granted, measures implemented mean extra hours spent at the airport, but fliers take the new experience positively and are eager to take to the skies again.
Avineesh Suppiah, 19, who recently flew on a return trip from KL International Airport (KLIA) to Penang International Airport (PIA) was happy with the efficient procedures.
“They did not slow down the process. It felt just like before, but with a few extra safety precautions.
“I am comfortable with it and will be doing a lot more travelling in the next few months,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
Avineesh, an aviation photographer with his Instagram handle avi_spotter, said he felt very safe with airport staff wearing masks and face shields while other passengers followed the standard operating procedures (SOPs) very well, including standing one metre apart.
He was also impressed with the thermal screenings at the airport that use artificial intelligence to detect whether the person is wearing a face mask or not.
A Malaysian student in the UK, Tarania Suresh, 23, said she was mentally prepared for a longer time at the airport due to the extra screenings, but what she experienced after arriving at KLIA was beyond her expectation.
At KLIA, Tarania went through at least four counters including a checkpoint to provide details to the authorities and a COVID-19 swab testing, among others.
At the swab testing checkpoint, Tarania said she felt slightly paranoid but relieved by the hospitality of the staff who were understanding and provided explanations to her questions.
When collecting checked luggage, she said all the bags had already been taken off the conveyor belt and arranged in rows with a one-metre distance to each other, giving the passengers no trouble in searching for their bags.
“I was prepared for the whole process to take two to three hours, but it was done in just about 40 minutes to an hour,” Tarania told TMR about her experience returning from overseas.
A student pilot, Ahmad Luqman Azhar, 22, said airports are well equipped with thermal screenings, hand sanitisers and social distancing marks on the lounge seats.
“As a frequent traveller, I do feel the difference in travelling under the new normal. Now we must wear masks, use hand sanitisers, undergo temperature screening, and ensure our body is fit to travel,” he told TMR.
He said thermal screening was done at various stages including during check-in, at the gate before boarding and before leaving the airport upon arrival.
At the time, Ahmad Luqman said there were much fewer people at the Subang Airport as compared to normal days, with limited flights.
Another student, Nigel John Shim Wei Sing, 24, said air travel amid the pandemic felt almost the same as previously, except for having to arrive much earlier, undergo temperature checks and few other control procedures.
Nigel, who recently flew from KLIA to PIA and KLIA to Kuching International Airport (KIA) said required documentation for the latter flight was more stringent, as Sarawak has certain entry restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
“You want to arrive early at the airport to go through the screenings in comfortable time.”
“We need to fill up a declaration form where we state our details, travel history and other information,” Nigel told TMR.
He said Malaysian airports are well prepared to facilitate air travel in the new normal with a thorough health and security measures in place, including limiting the number of entrance and exit doors to a minimum two or three, in order to manage the traffic and maintaining safe distance.
Similarly, Mohd Almy Rahul Moideen, 44, said his recent flight from KLIA to Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) also involved comprehensive control measures to enter the Borneo state from Peninsula Malaysia.
Initially, those whose identity cards are registered outside of Sabah were unable to go there but now it has reopened with extra procedures.
These include an interview process at the airport where he was asked about his address, the purpose of travelling and workplace in Sabah, and was personally briefed on home quarantine.
Travelling to Sabah once every two months for work, Mohd Almy commended the authorities and airport operator for the enhanced measures to keep air travel safe.
“I applaud the precautionary steps implemented on both local and foreign travellers.
“I do not mind if the measures continue until year-end to prevent infections because we do not know who would sit beside us on the flight,” he told TMR.
A retail worker, Nur Hafiz Kenny Yusoff, 27, said the arrangement at the immigration counters at klia2 were altered to smoothen and accelerate the screening process of new normal.
“It is more convenient to queue with fewer turns to speed-up the process. The airport was very much in order,” he told TMR about his recent flight from KLIA to Sandakan Airport.
Nur Hafiz said flight boarding at the gate was conducted in sequence starting from passengers whose seats were at the back rows and staggered towards the front.
He added that passengers generally adhered to the social distancing rule while at the airport.
Throughout the journey, Nur Hafiz said there were constant communications about social distancing and the use of hand sanitisers. He appreciated the cabin crew’s constant reminder about the SOPs.
Air travel in Malaysia has shown further signs of recovery in the first nine days of July 2020 compared to late June as the relaxation in travel restrictions continue into the second month, according to Malaysia Airports.
In the first nine days of July, passenger and aircraft movements doubled with a daily average of about 37,000 and 550 respectively compared to a daily average of about 18,650 and 290 in the last nine days of June, statistics from the 39 airports managed by Malaysia Airports showed.
In a statement recently, Malaysia Airports Group CEO Dato’ Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said: “We are hoping to see larger increases in traffic numbers as we go forward, especially with Hari Raya Aidiladha approaching at the end of the month.”
The company said it will keep ensuring a safe airport environment for travellers and restoring confidence in air travel with technology-enabled measures at KLIA including facial recognition, self-check-in and bag-drop, contactless security screening and automated disinfection using ultraviolet light.
Airports are the first entry points into the country and the 100% cooperation shown by both passengers and visitors has indeed helped the nation towards winning the war against the virus.