If air travel, with all the strict time and security requirements regarding luggage, was already an inconvenience before the coronavirus pandemic, it will be even more so in the immediate future. At least in this part of the world.
Although the Government of Finland has not yet ruled on whether the use of masks should be mandatory to combat the spread of the coronavirus, one thing is for sure: there will be no way to fly into or out of the country without protective covering of the mouth and nose.
On Tuesday, both Finland's flag carrier (state-owned Finnair) and the airports operator (Finavia) said that masks will be compulsory for passengers in Finnish flights and airports.
Finnair has earlier this spring implemented several changes intended to protect the health of customers and employees. According to a press release, customers are seated "as far away from each other onboard as possible," there are plastic shields at service points and aircraft cleaning has been further intensified.
Customer service personnel also follow a no-touch policy with customers’ travel documents and baggage.
Masks during the entire flight
But for passengers, the most visible change now will be the requirement to wear a mask for the entire duration of the flight. This measure will enter into effect on 18 May and will last "at least until the end of August," the company says. Children under the age of 7 will not be required to wear mask.
"Customers will board the flight with their own mask and wear it throughout the flight,” tells Piia Karhu, SVP, Customer Experience at Finnair.
“Also, Finnair’s customer facing staff at the airport as well as the cabin crew will wear surgical masks. We decided to introduce this measure because the usage of masks is becoming more widespread and they protect passengers from possible droplet infections. When everyone wears a mask, we’re able to protect each other," she added.
This Finnair manager also warned passengers that "they won’t be able to board a flight if there is the slightest suspicion of a Covid-19 infection or if they have respiratory symptoms.”
Customers will be asked to board the planes started from the rear of the cabin and "will be seated apart from each other whenever possible," the airline said in a press release. Disembarkation will be done from front to rear. In bus transportation, 50% of the bus capacity will be used maximum.
Finavia: masks at airports
Finavia, the Finnish airport operator, has also introduced new measures at Finnish airports.
Customer facing employees at the airports will be required to wear surgical masks, and travelers are also recommended to use it.
"Right now, we are expanding the use of masks to protect passengers and employees,” says Helsinki Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff from Finavia.
“We kindly ask passengers to use their own mask whenever they move about the airport. Please acquire a suitable mask as you prepare for your journey. At this moment, we have also reserved a limited number of mouth-nose protectors which we can provide, upon request, to those passengers who do not yet have their own mask. Airport employees have already had access to masks but, going forward, Finavia is requiring the use of a mask in customer service tasks at all workstations that do not have a separate protective plastic barrier,” she added.
Other security measures
The first coronavirus-related measures were implemented at the airports in early February. Finavia’s employees meet passengers at the airports to remind them of the instructions and how to act properly at the airport. The instructions may change quickly as the coronavirus situation evolves.
- Hand hygiene: Hand sanitiser is available at customer service points and security control. Information about hand hygiene is distributed to passengers inside the terminals and for employees via internal channels.
- Safe distance: Passengers are reminded to keep a safe distance with tape markings and authorities’ instructions. Airport buses only transport 50% of the normal number of passengers. At Helsinki Airport, domestic and international passengers have separate routes until further notice.
- Protection of passengers and employees: Transparent protective plastic barriers in customer service points. Mouth-nose protector obligation for customer service employees and mask recommendation for passengers. In addition, a batch of protectors is available for passengers.
- Cleaning: Intensified cleaning and disinfection of contact surfaces in terminals. Intensified cleaning schedule of security bins.
- Quarantine instructions: Announcements about the quarantine and authorities’ material is made available. Support for the health authorities’ information point and symptom screening.
- Electronic check-in in advance: Finavia recommends that passengers complete their check-in online before they arrive to the airport. Only every other check-in machine is in use at Helsinki Airport to ensure safe distances.
- Security control: To reduce contact, the airport operator also recommends that passengers minimise the amount of hand baggage. In addition, they ask passengers to note the instructions on how to pack electronic devices.
- Parking, public transport and picking up passengers: Passengers are requested to use a taxi or their own car as they arrive to or leave the airport. Trains and buses do not stop at Helsinki Airport for the time being. Terminal 2 at Helsinki Airport is reserved for departing and arriving passengers only. People dropping someone off at the airport in their own car are requested to drop the passengers off in front of Terminal 2 and leave the area as quickly as possible. Those picking someone up are asked to park their car in parking hall P3 and wait for the passengers in their car or at the arrivals hall in Terminal 1 which currently has no traffic.