Once business travel fully returns, it will look very different than it did before the pandemic. This will mean new rules, preparations and concerns for the meeting planner and the individual business traveler.
As business travel slowly picks up, companies are carefully mapping strategies to ensure their employees stay safe at each stage of their trips. Covering all those bases is easier said than done, however, when there's a slew of new regulations to take into account, often varying from one country to another — and even from one state to another.
Since the beginning of 2020, our team of analysts at Riskline around the world has closely tracked the development of the Covid-19 outbreak, and communicated real-time intelligence about virus transmission, travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and reopenings across the globe.
The following tips are a preview of what business travel will now look like and considerations planners should make for themselves and their groups.
At the Airport
Airports have attempted to implement social-distancing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A growing number are deploying workers to manage lines, and have used signage and physical barriers to separate passengers.
Some facilities have also put various health checks in place. Temperature scans might be required at various stages of travel, including entry into the airport itself, during check-in or security procedures, and when boarding the aircraft. Contact information and/or health questionnaires might be required by local authorities or airlines during booking, check-in or after landing. A few of the measures taken at LAX, for example, include installing hundreds of hand-sanitizer stations and cleaning the air throughout the terminals with advanced ultraviolet technology.
- Check in online and use an electronic ticket. Otherwise, use self-service kiosks at the airport to minimize contact with staff.
- Check with the departure airport about how far in advance people need to arrive before their flights. Before, it was typically 60 or 90 minutes. We're now seeing those times really change and passengers might need to arrive up to four hours in advance in some cases.
- Check with the airport about gate closure times. In the past, the last call to board was about 15 minutes before departure; that timing has been pushed to 30 minutes or more before takeoff.
- Wear a face mask and bring spares. Health experts recommend changing your mask every four to six hours of continuous use, as masks can get soiled or wet. You'll need lots of extras.
- Pack hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in your carry-on. You can bring a lot: The TSA now allows one 12-ounce bottle of liquid hand sanitizer per passenger in their carry-on bags until further notice. These bottles might need to be screened separately, which could add some time to the checkpoint process.
- Be prepared for preboarding health checks. Some airlines are introducing temperature checks, or additional questions. Passengers have been denied boarding for looking visibly ill. So, if you suffer from seasonal allergies like hay fever or have some other issue, bring a doctor's note.
In the Air
Airlines have stepped up sanitation and distancing measures, implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting for planes and uniforms, and providing personal protective equipment for flight attendants. Some also are offering personal-care packages in seatback pockets with hand sanitizer, disposable masks and disinfectant wipes.
While many airlines left the middle seats open when travel started picking up again, fewer are doing so now, so flights might be more full than anticipated.
- Wear a face mask in the plane and bring spares. Government regulations and airline rules vary greatly on the use of masks during flights; travelers concerned about unmasked passengers should verify these policies before choosing an airline, and then wear a face mask at all times. Consider replacing disposable medical masks every four to six hours.
- Disinfect your tray table, window shade, armrests and seat-belt buckle. We know that airlines are doing a lot to make sure the aircraft are deeply disinfected, but for your own peace of mind, it's a good idea to wipe down any spots you'd expect other hands might have touched on previous flights.
- Open the overhead air vents. Most airplanes have high-efficiency particulate-air (HEPA) filters, which are industrial-grade and very effective. They can filter 99.9 percent of particles. Opening the vents really helps the air circulate.
- Remain in your seat as much as possible. A pro tip is to choose the window seat, which limits your contact with the people around you. Health experts say the greatest risks of exposure are when passengers are boarding and deplaning; getting into a window seat limits how many people will be in your immediate surroundings as they walk past down the aisle.
- Bring your own food and beverages. With reduced services on many flights, meal service might not be available. Even if it is, you still might be safest bringing your own, to avoid making the flight attendant talk across the row and reach over other passengers to hand items to you.
Inside Rental Cars and Taxis
Once travelers have arrived and need to get from the airport to the hotel, there are additional precautions that should be put into practice.
Rental-car companies increasingly are offering contactless pick-up options, and might include personal-care and sanitation packages inside the vehicles.
Many taxis and rideshare companies have mask requirements in place, strict passenger limits and plexiglass dividers between drivers and riders. But even as others are taking precautions, travelers must protect themselves by following additional practices for their own safety.
- Disinfect high-touch areas. In rental cars, wipe down your steering wheel, gear shift and any parts that would be touched often. In a taxi or rideshare, wipe down the seat belt, the handle and anything else you're likely to put your hands on.
- Wear a face mask and ride in the rear seat of the vehicle.
- Open a window or the air vents for the duration of the journey. This really helps with air circulation.
- Try to handle your own luggage. It might look rude if you let the driver take out your suitcase and then you wipe it down right away with disinfectant, but you need to do that if the driver touches your bag. It's best to grab your own luggage. Otherwise, make a mental note to clean it and then wash your hands as soon as you can.
- Use cashless payment options. The providers are helping in this area: Many taxis are no longer accepting cash.
At the Hotel
Well-established hotel companies have introduced a host of enhanced health-screening measures for guests and employees, such as mandatory temperature checks at entrances and enforced social distancing in all common areas. Facilities such as swimming pools and gyms, when open, now have new restrictions in place to limit the number of guests using them, and to maintain safety protocols.
As hotels block out extra time for deep cleaning and disinfecting, there might be times when fewer rooms are available or periods when rooms will be required to remain empty for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. Hotel management might request that guests check in later in the afternoon or check out earlier in the morning in order to allow for more cleaning to take place. You might also see personal-care packages such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and more in the rooms.
- Book with well-established hotel chains and serviced-apartment providers that comply with local regulations. Be sure to phone the hotels or contact your vendors to find out what they're doing to keep guests healthy and safe right now, and to learn whose rules they are following.
- Bring an adequate supply of face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
- Wear a mask in common areas.
- Consider contactless check-in and checkout, if available.
The regulations regarding airplanes, taxis, car rentals and hotels are evolving constantly, and planners will need to take this into account. With the correct and up-to-date information at hand, business professionals can begin to travel and gather safely.
Suzanne Sangiovese is commercial and communications director at Riskline, which provides country and city risk assessments and real-time alert messaging to fulfill duty-of-care requirements before and during travel.