Covid-19: The Future of Air Travel (B1-B2/v1145)


From sanitation portals in the airport to plastic dividers on the airplane, find out what air travel might look like as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Susan Ormiston, TV Reporter:  Open skies but frightened flyers. The future of flying has to be radically different. Just look at D.C.’s Reagan National on a weekday morning – more cleaners and staff than passengers, airport restaurants, dark. Aviation has taken a punch to the gut.

Daniel Gooch, Canadian Airports Council:  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  Our airports are empty. The revenue has… has almost completely stopped and we don’t know when it’s coming back.

Ormiston:  Wanlin Zhong, an international student whose visa is running out has to fly home today to China. If you didn’t have to fly today, would you be getting on a plane?

Wanlin Zhong:  Maybe no. I would stay at home and don’t (not) go out.

Ormiston:  Flying now is almost lonely. But try to imagine when, if, millions of passengers have to go through security again.

Gooch:  With spatial distancing of about two meters between passengers it takes about 350 meters just to accommodate the security screening line for one wide-body aircraft.

Ormiston:  Get ready for more touchless travel.  These kinds of kiosks might disappear or get a sanitized protective coating.  In the future, your phone will be even more important. They’ll use biometrics like facial recognition in many places from checking to boarding. Airports and airlines are in a desperate race to come up with a kind of sanitation security. At Hong Kong Airport spraying antimicrobial coating on all the places we frequently touch. Testing clean tech, a booth which checks your temperature and lightly sprays you with disinfectant. Cleaning now could go robotic like at Pittsburgh.  Trying out scrubbers retrofitted with UVC light.

Katherine Karolick, Pittsburgh International Airport:  UV has been used in hospitals for decades as a way to disinfect and kill microorganisms. It’s not enough with the pandemic that passengers see a clean airport.  They need to know it’s clean.

Ormiston:  Airports might consider sanitation portals like this one using far UVC light. Experimental, meant to safely kill viruses on the body, not yet FDA-approved.  On the plane, prepare for flight attendants in masks or a version of full body PPE. United Airlines will use electrostatic spray before every flight and..

Josh Earnest:  We’ve actually tweaked the algorithm of the seat generator to maximize social distancing on the planes.

Ormiston:   But that promise to space out passengers was called out after pictures emergedof packed flights.  Looking ahead, how about a plastic shield separating you from your seat mate, developed by an Italian design company.

Paolo Drago, Aviointeriors President:  Glass safe is a sort of a shield, plastic shield, to be given to the passengers same as let me see… your pillow or even the blanket to be put on after takeoff.

Ormiston:  So when you designed it, what were you trying to do?

Drago:  Same as your mask.  Trying to limit to the breath propagation.

Ormiston:  It’s portable, could be stored in a sanitized envelope under the seat. Longer-term? Avio has designed a rear-facing middle seat for sanitation and privacy. For now, masks are mandated in Canadian airports and strongly urged on all aircraft. Some comfort for the Brewer family traveling home with David staying behind to work.

David Brewer, Father of family flying home:  The risk is there, but you have to keep living life.  We’re gonna have to live with this for a while.

Ormiston:  And persuade more travelers that flying could be safe again. Susan Ormiston, CBC News, Washington.


1. The future of flying has to be ________ different.
2. The ________ has almost completely stopped and we don't know when it's coming back.
3. Wanlin Zhong is an international student whose visa is ________ has to fly home today to China.
4. We've actually ________ the algorithm of the seat generator to maximize social distancing on the planes.
5. Masks are mandated in Canadian airports and strongly ________ on all aircraft.


  1. Have you flown at all since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, 2020? Would you be willing to fly or do you think it best avoided until Covid is under control globally?
  2. Do you think air travel can be made safe?  What are some additional precautions that might be taken?
  3. Can the airline industry recover from this catastrophic decline in air travel?  What changes to their business model might the  airlines have to consider in order to survive?