“If they refuse, that’s their choice,” says Edward Arkwright, deputy CEO of Aeroports de Paris. “We're counting on individual freedom and a sense of responsibility. The aim is to put in place measures that will instill confidence so everyone feels they can travel safely.”

What’s not feasible, airlines say, is blocking off rows of seats aboard aircraft to maintain distancing at 38,000 feet. Such a move would do little to contain the virus while hammering profits at airlines, the International Air Transport Association says. With middle rows removed, single-aisle jets would fly no more than two-thirds full, whereas 70% is needed just to break even, according to the trade group.

De facto distancing will happen anyway, says Jozsef Varadi, CEO of low-cost carrier Wizz Air, because few people are likely to book seats once airlines start to expand their schedules again. He says he has no plans to limit the number of passengers. Some travelers, though, are already complaining that carriers are letting planes get too full.

“Airlines are in the business of delivering passenger health and safety, but also economic efficiency,” Varadi says. “We are not structurally looking to get rid of physical seats.”

Instead, carriers expect protective equipment, disinfectants, and restrictions on movement to keep the virus from spreading. Varadi says his customers will need to cover their faces throughout the journey. Crew will don masks and gloves, meal service will be minimal, and contactless cards will be needed for any purchases. There will be no in-flight magazines or catalogs, and planes will be disinfected with an antiviral fog between trips. And low-cost giant Ryanair Holdings Plc says it will require passengers to make a special request to use the toilet to prevent queuing in the aisles.

Some airports are placing their hopes on a system that combines screening with certificates showing that the holder is either free of the disease or has had it and is immune, as well as contract-tracing that will allow cases to be tracked should a flare-up occur.

Vienna airport lets arriving passengers avoid a 14-day government quarantine by undergoing a molecular-biological test in a facility near the airport. Departing passengers who are tested can get a document proving they’re virus-free to present to officials upon landing. But the test must be booked days in advance, takes about three hours for results, and at 190 euros costs more than many flights.

For Dubai Airports chief Griffiths, it all adds up to a pressing need for a vaccine. While the emergency measures being introduced may help boost passenger confidence, he says they’re not sustainable either for companies or the traveling public.

“This crisis is unlike anything we've ever seen in the aviation business,” he says. “We're dealing with a monster.”


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