Air travel will be a safe, but stressful experience, for the near future the chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority, Dalton Philips has warned.
It is going to take two to three years for numbers travelling to return to pre-Covid levels, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show.
Passenger numbers at present are down 98 per cent and will be 30 per cent to 40 per cent lower next year than 2019. Mr Philips said he expected passenger numbers to increase to 4,000 per day in the next week, normally they would be over 100,000 per day.
Prior to the pandemic Dublin and Cork airports would have been served by 50 airlines, that dropped to seven airlines and the airports were down to 800 passengers per day, he said.
“Sunday was our busiest day since the start of the pandemic - we had 4,000 passengers - we would normally have about 115,000 passengers going through Dublin airport alone so you're talking about a 98 per cent reduction.
It's obviously having a devastating impact on the whole ecosystem.
Mr Philips said that the airport experience will be a different experience for passengers.
“When you come to the terminal you'll have to be wearing a face mask, you can't be accompanied into the terminal because of social distancing requirements, there'll be one way traffic routes through check in, when you get to security, it will unfortunately be a slower process because of the social distancing requirements.
“When you come out the other side the retail shops will be open, but again social distancing requirements will be in place and down to the gate. We'll obviously be doing extensive cleaning and you will be able to see that ongoing and it's almost like something out of Ghostbusters - electric static guns that are now in operation across the terminals that kill bacteria for up to 28 days - a lot of different cleaning regimes, but unfortunately it is going to be a slower process.”
The advice about the time to arrive before a flight remains the same, he said, 90 minutes before a short haul flight, but as traffic builds that could change. People accompanying passengers will not be allowed into the terminal. The same goes for meeting people arriving in the country.
At the moment security lines take a maximum of 30 minutes, but capacity has been reduced by 70 per cent. Pre Covid, Dublin airport would have processed 6,000 passengers through security, at present only 2,000 are being processed.
I think people understand this is beyond our control and people have been very good willed and good natured about it.
While the airport cannot insist that people wear face coverings in the terminal, Mr Philips said they are “strongly recommending” that passengers do so, pointing out that they will have to wear one if flying.
“It is really our recommendation that people travel with them on.” At present passengers could not be turned away if they do not wear a face covering into the terminal, but if a level of compliance is not observed then they may have to consider having “to put someone on the door.” Face masks will be on sale at the airport, he said.
Mr Philips said that staff at the airport have been “heroic”, everyone had taken a 20 per cent wage cut, there had been significant downsizing with 750 to 1,000 jobs likely to be lost. However, he said they wanted to maintain relationships with their staff as he anticipated that in two to three years the aviation industry would recover.
Measures being offered to staff include taking a career break, reduced hours and a voluntary severance scheme. “I think the staff have been exemplary”.