What's Up With The Airlines? And What Can We Expect?

Anchorage International Car Rental Section. (Photo, Copper River Country Journal) Almost 6 million travelers arrived at Ted Stevens Internat...

Anchorage International Car Rental Section. (Photo, Copper River Country Journal)

Almost 6 million travelers arrived at Ted Stevens International Airport last year. It was a record, and we all expected even more this summer. But that was before the pandemic struck. National transportation officials say 96% fewer passengers traveled by air this April than the year before. Here in Alaska, the isolation is pretty noticeable. We are an island. We need our planes back. Please. 

Fortunately, the airline industry has gotten the memo. They realize their solution has to go beyond just laying off people; that their innovations are the key to their own survival. Here's a look at what's happening. 

Alaska Airlines Installs New Protocols, Promises "Operating Room" Cleanliness  

EVERYBODY'S THE LONE RANGER 

Alaska Airlines is going hardcore. Their website lays down the law as strongly as Costco does. Only children under the age of 2 can go without a mask. Everyone else must wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. If you can't wear a mask at all times, in the airport and during the flight, for any reason, "you will not be able to fly with us," warns the airline, (This does not include quick eating and drinking.) 

Guests who refuse to wear an airlines-approved face covering will find the rest of their itinerary cancelled, including any connecting or return flights, along with any future trips they've booked. They will be given a full refund for any unused travel, but they'll be on their own.

TOUCHLESS SERVICE 

We can expect more do-it-yourself service, with mobile boarding passes and so on. Luggage tags can be printed at home. Plexiglas shields, like the ones you see at stores and banks, will also be used, and boarding procedures will be expedited. Through October 31st, Alaska Airlines is limiting the number of people on flights and blocking seats, or reassigning seats so families could be together and there's more space around you. 

LIKE AN OPERATING ROOM 

Alaska Airlines is providing special custom heavy-duty hand wipes. They've changed their food and beverage service, and encourage you to bring your own food and even a water bottle to fill at the terminal. Travelers often see "cleaning crews" coming on board as we leave a plane. Basically, it seems like their main duty is to sweep quickly through, picking up trash and moving right along. Well, now they're actually going to be "cleaning" according to Alaska Airlines. The company says their goal is to make the cabin as clean as "a hospital operating room" and that they're using something called ATP testing to try to ensure they really mean it. To keep things clean, Alaska Airlines is using electrostatic disinfectant sprayer guns on all contact spaces – "which emit a safe, high-grade EPA cleaning solution to surfaces (overhead bins, armrests, tray tables, seat belts, lavatories)."

CLEARING THE AIR 

Since coronavirus spreads through the air, Alaska Airlines (like Boeing, United and even the people running Amtrak) is spending a lot of effort on filtration systems. Alaska has new fleets, and says they have "the latest filtration technology in use." They have systems with HEPA filters which they say remove particulate contaminates, including viruses. The air flows from the ceiling to the floor, and changes all air in the cabin 20 to 30 times an hour, says Alaska - or every 2 to 3 minutes. 

 

What?! You Must Be Kidding! The Planes To Nowhere 

Apparently some people really miss airplanes. No. They don't miss their distant friends, family and new places… What they miss is that marvelous experience – of being crammed into an upright seat with an 18-inch aisle, a teeny communal bathroom with folding doors, a flimsy 12-inch wide tray in front of you, a chance to play endless rounds of Angry Birds on your little computer – and strangers dozing in the darkness, an occasional round window suddenly popping open to let in blinding sunlight. There's a plane for that. 

The little country of Brunei, on the north coast of the island of Borneo, is known as the Abode of Peace. It's one of the richest countries in the world, due to its petroleum. And it has a crazy new model for flying – even during this worldwide pandemic. Brunei Royal Airlines will be happy to take you, along with 300 other people, on a 90-minute "Flight to Nowhere" which starts at an airport, takes a scenic tour of the clouds, and brings you right back to the very same airport. Qantas in Australia will also do the same thing. The Qantas flight isn't cheap. It costs between $575 and $2,765. 

A New York Times story about these luxury flights said one of the ticket agents who sells those Trips to Nowhere was elated. Her clients told her, "I just want white fluffy clouds!" The agent added knowingly: "Some people just want to drag their bags through the airport and go check them in."

A "normal" year at Anchorage International. (Photo, Country Journal)

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2020.  COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL



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