'Health passports' and face masks seen as aviation looks to new normal

Cathy Yang and Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2020 03:33 PM | Updated as of Apr 22 2020 01:59 PM

'Health passports' and face masks seen as aviation looks to new normal 1
Passengers queue up at a check-in counter in NAIA 3 on March 13, 2020, a few days before millions in the Philippines were locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- A traveler checks in and tags his bags at the airport with no human contact and readies a "health passport" containing health data. This could be the new normal for air travel when the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, stakeholders said Tuesday.

The virus that has infected 2.46 million and killed nearly 170,000 people globally grounded nearly all air travel as world leaders locked down millions. In the Philippines, commercial air travel will not resume until after the quarantine period ends on April 30.

The pandemic will change air travel the same way the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks tightened airport security checks. This time, with a focus on health, said Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and consumer experience Candice Iyog.

A health or immunity passport is among possible measures, Iyog said. The passports can be color-coded to determine whether or not a person can be allowed to clear immigration based on his or her health history, she said.

"We expect COVID-19 will change security screening, wherein health is part of safety and security screening," Iyog said in a video conference with ANC's The Boss.

"We don't know how it will look like for us just yet," Iyog said. "We are in the very early stages of a restart."


The Philippines' largest airline is looking at exhausting digital solutions in the entire journey, including airport processes, Iyog said.

Passengers will be required to wear face masks on board. Cabin crew will also wear protective gear. Iyog said both travelers and flight personnel need to feel safe.

"Definitely, the new normal will be contactless with high digital adoption," she said.

"As we work towards this transition, what we are going to be conscious about, the restart will have processes that are transitional in nature," she said.

Aileen Clemente, the head of one of the Philippines' largest and oldest tour operator, Rajah, said she would fly as soon as travel reopens to experience what clients would go through.

There is "no business at all" for tour operators with hotels also shut, except for repatriations of Filipino workers, she said.

'Health passports' and face masks seen as aviation looks to new normal 2
Cathy Yang speaks to travel industry leaders as they prepare for the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. ABS-CBN News


The tourism industry risks losing 75 million jobs because of COVID-19, 49 million of which are in the Asia-Pacific. Some 1 million jobs are lost daily, said Nigel David, World Travel and Tourism Council Executive Director for Asia and Middle East.

Foreign tourist arrivals in the January to March period dropped 35 percent based on preliminary data, said Tourism Usec. Benito Bengzon.

"You can just imagine the impact on the tourism value chain," he said.

The Department of Tourism is preparing a response and recovery plan to keep businesses going until the end of the year then shifting the focus to industry recovery until 2022, he said.

"Even if the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) is lifted, the government will have to provide ways and means to help tourism get back on its feet," Bengzon said.

Rescue measures could include stimulus, low-interest loans and deferment of tax payments, he said. "Nobody is talking about a hard sell. The immediate concern is business continuity," he said.

Except for returning overseas Filipinos, hotels are running on limited capacity, said Christine Ibarreta, president of the Hotel Sales and Managers Association of the Philippines.

"The new normal will be the mabuhay hand gesture instead of shaking hands," she said.

Bengzon said new security and health protocols notwithstanding, the government is confident Filipino travelers will help travel and tours get back on its feet.

"Filipinos have not lost their appetite to travel," he said.

Catch the full interview on ANC at 8 p.m. on April 28, as The Boss looks ahead to the new normal for the economy with the COVID-19 pandemic.