The European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) has welcomed new operational guidelines from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) ahead of a return to flying, but vowed to fight the recommendation not to resume inflight retail.
The EASA and ECDC were mandated by the European Commission to jointly issue more detailed technical operational guidance for the aviation sector. This followed the release of the European Commission’s guidance (13 May) on how to safely resume travel and reboot Europe’s tourism in 2020 and beyond.
Within the European Commission’s guidance, travel retailers are urged to take adequate measures to protect against the coronavirus Covid-19. These include managing passenger flows to ensure distancing (floor markers, optimising layouts and restricting customers if necessary) and the regular cleaning and disinfection of locations, equipment and merchandise.
Operators are encouraged to create barriers between customers and retail staff at till-points, provide sufficient hand-sanitising stations throughout retail locations and to provide visible information for customers on appropriate safe behaviour.
Additionally, retail staff must be adequately trained and equipped to deal with customers and merchandise, in line with guidance from health authorities on safe behaviour.
‘CLEAR PATH FOR THE RESUMPTION OF AVIATION’
The EASA and ECDC guidelines, which were released yesterday (20 May), serve as an Aviation Health Safety Protocol for airport and airline operators as the aviation industry prepares to restart. The guidelines establish a clear path for the resumption of aviation following the implementation of air travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic.
They identify detailed recommendations to be introduced at airports and on aircraft, which will facilitate the resumption of air transport and ensure travellers feel safe to fly again.
At airports, symptomatic passengers, crew members and staff must be discouraged from trying to board planes, according to the guidelines. Physical distancing (1.5 metres between individuals), enhanced hygiene measures for staff and passengers and enhanced facility cleaning must also be implemented.
Airport operators, in cooperation with airline partners and other stakeholders are urged, where applicable, to take appropriate measures to prevent queuing in high passenger concentration areas. This will reduce the risk of contamination posed by unnecessary human interaction.
The guidelines also suggest contact and touching surfaces should be minimised through alternative processes (mobile check-in and non-contact boarding). Access to airport terminals must also be limited to passengers, crew members and staff, while face-masks should be worn at all times by passengers and those working at airports.
The reopening of non-essential airport services should also be pursued, “initially opening those that can ensure physical distancing with respect to national provisions or similar services outside the airport.”
Meanwhile, airline operators are urged to provide guidance to passengers regarding various preventative measures on board. These include hand hygiene (particularly before eating, drinking and using the toilet), appropriate use of face-masks, respiratory etiquette, limiting contact with cabin surfaces and minimising on board service.
The guidelines said: “Aeroplane operators should reduce on board service to a minimum to ensure comfort and wellbeing standards for passengers. They should also limit contact between crew members and passengers, giving proper consideration to the duration of the flight.”
Commenting on the announcement, Nigel Keal, President, ETRC, said: “This is welcome leadership from both EASA and the European Commission which sets out harmonised measures to be introduced in the EU member states. The guidance shows a clear path to the reopening of travel retail and duty-free shops as people return to air travel.
“We now urge EU member states to support this coordinated approach and work with travel retailers at local level to implement these high standards which allow shops to reopen safely. This will enable European airports to generate important non-aeronautical revenues which will be key to their recovery following this sustained period of disruption.”
He added: “This pandemic and its impact is not limited to Europe. Countries around the world are dealing with the same issues. ETRC is calling on the International Civil Aviation Organisation, when developing the international guidance for measures to be introduced for the aviation industry, to follow the position taken by the EASA and European Commission. This will ensure duty-free shops can reopen alongside the resumption of air travel.
“While the guidelines recommend that the reopening of non-essential airport services should be pursued, alongside physical distancing with respect to national provisions, they also suggest additional measures should temporarily be considered for inflight activities. This includes no inflight duty free sales.”
On the prospect of no inflight duty free sales when services resume, Keal remarked: “We advocated strongly for a resumption of all duty-free services, including inflight sales and are disappointed that this temporary restriction is proposed in the guidelines. We will continue to voice our position on this to the relevant authorities and hope this is removed soon.”
The new EASA and ECDC guidance has also been welcomed by the Duty Free World Council. Sarah Branquinho, President, DFWC (pictured left) said: “We are pleased to see that under the EASA guidelines, duty free shops should expect to be able to trade again as airports and airlines return to normal scheduling in the second half of 2020.
“These measures are a welcome step forward that will enable travel retailers to begin rebuilding their businesses, which have been among some of the most heavily impacted in the world by the Covid-19 outbreak.
“As an industry, we have been working together to put guidelines in place to ensure that travel retail stores can provide a safe and secure environment for passengers to shop, as part of their journey.
“Travel retail is an essential part of the wider aviation industry — the value of non-aeronautical revenue for a healthy airport sector has never been clearer and travel retail’s essential role is apparent.”
Regarding the recommendation in the guidance to temporarily restrict inflight sales, Branquinho said: “We are disappointed that the guidelines have included a recommendation to temporarily restrict inflight sales which is not in line with our industry position. We will continue to advocate in support of the entire duty free industry and seek the lifting of this restriction.
“While [the guidance] is an encouraging development for European retailers, a recovery for the aviation industry will only be possible with global cooperation.”
She concluded: “The Duty Free World Council is engaging with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and organisations around the world, to work constructively and quickly to develop common standards and guidelines that will ensure the world can get back to business and passengers back in the air.”
TEMPORARY INFLIGHT RETAIL RESTRICTION
In the meantime, Ryanair is the latest to welcome the EASA and ECDC guidelines, which will hopefully ensure European travellers can safely return to flying within the EU in the coming weeks. Michael O’Leary, CEO, Ryanair said: “Fourteen-day quarantines are ineffective and unimplementable.
“Requiring international arrivals to quarantine only after they have used multiple public transport providers to get from the airport to their ultimate destination has no basis in science or medicine.
“We strongly urge Europe’s governments, especially those in Ireland and the UK, to mandate to the wearing of face-masks for airline, train and (London) underground passengers. This is the best and most effective way to limit the spread of Covid-19 in public transport environments where social distancing is not possible.”
In welcoming the European Union’s recommendation of face-masks he concluded: “We call again on the Irish and UK Government to abandon their unexplainable, ineffective, and unimplementable quarantine restrictions.
“Europe’s citizens can travel safely on their summer holidays wearing face-masks and observing temperature protocols, but 14-day quarantines have no scientific basis, are unimplementable and unnecessary in circumstances where airline, train and underground passengers wear face-masks where social distancing isn’t possible.”