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My flight from Casa to Istanbul in November 2020

My flight from Casa to Istanbul in November 2020

Traveling by air from Morocco to an international destination, as the Covid19 pandemic is underway, is not an easy task.

  Indeed, after having made the decision to travel from Morocco to Turkey to attend a seminar, it was necessary to justify to the Moroccan authorities the reason for my trip, because tourist trips remain prohibited in the current economic situation. Once the authorization for international travel had been obtained, I had to provide Casablanca airport, before boarding the plane, with a certificate approving that I tested negatively for Covid19 virus, at most 72 hours before the trip, since most of the countries require that, except few of them, including Turkey. Then, I had to prepare my stay on board during the trip, to avoid any risk of contamination. Personally, even though I was partially reassured, I did try to take some precautions, especially on my outward journey between Casa and Istanbul as Turkey does not require to be tested negatively on arrival.

In fact, most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily, due to the way the air circulates in airplanes equipped with filters, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nevertheless, not all airliners are equipped with HEPA air filters, similar to those installed in hospitals or in airplanes in the USA. The HEPA filter is a high-efficiency air filter which is capable of filtering particles with a diameter greater than or equal to 0.3 µm2. Once you are on board, there is always a risk of infection, however small. According to Arnold Barnett, professor of statistics in Massachusetts, Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, the probability of contracting the coronavirus in the plane is not null. It’s about 1 in 4,300 on a two-hour flight when the aircraft is full, and it’s about 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats are empty.

The risk of infection comes mainly from other passengers next to you or within a few rows, especially as Turkey, at the time of our trip, did not require a covid-19 test certificate from travelers arriving at its airports. The virus could also be contracted through people in transit or from those who contracted the virus just between the time of the test and the start of the trip.In their announcement to passengers, the crew insisted on wearing the mask, which is mandatory during the trip, especially when we know that the virus is spread mainly through direct person-to-person contact. Surprisingly, in the mid-air plane, messages related to virus risks have become more important than the usual announcements about air safety!So, I decided not to go to the restroom on the plane to get away from the other passengers in the corridor and avoid any possible contact. This is why I managed to choose a seat near a window. According to some experts who have observed the number of contacts that passengers could have on ten flights in the seasonal influenza, the seat near the window would be the safest place on the plane for the sake to avoid being infected. Indeed, people in the seats near the window side, are the ones who have had the least contact and therefore take the least risk of contracting a virus.

Eating and drinking on an airplane can be another possible contamination factor. Therefore, I abstained from eating and drinking throughout the journey between Casablanca and Istanbul. Unfortunately, when the meal carts arrived, almost all of the passengers took off their masks. All these precautions taken, from entering the airport, indeed rendered them ineffective when passengers removed the mask and eat a few inches from the face of their neighbors. Some people preferred to wait for their neighbors to finish their meal and put their masks back on, before feeding themselves.

Also, most companies do not cap the number of seats to ensure some distance among passengers. While some companies block the middle seats, others limit the number of passengers on board, and others warn passengers in advance in the case of a full flight, and still some do not take any of these measures. It is difficult to know which airline takes which action.

Generally speaking, airlines follow their stated policies, but these policies vary widely from company to company. Many airlines promised empty seats, but later revealed that if the load of flights required it, they would release those seats for passengers. Having said that, most airlines have stringent disinfection procedures in place and strictly adhere to them. In any case, to further protect myself in the aircraft cabin, I wore two masks and surgical glasses as show in the picture below.

AHMED KHAOUJA in the airplane between Casablanca and Istanbul

Upon landing in Istanbul and as soon as the engines stopped, it seemed that the systematic preventions taken by the passengers during the trip stopped completely among many of them. Several passengers immediately jumped out of their seats, retrieved their luggage in a hurry as usual, and rushed down the hall, hoping to get out as soon as possible. Needless to say that the precaution of physical distancing was hardly possible to observe in this context; it appeared indeed it was no more their first priority.One arrived at Istanbul airport, we were asked to fill out a form through which we were asked a whole series of questions about our trip, including the seat number and whether or not we had not contacted infected people in the last few days.

A.   Khaouja in the Topkapı Palace

Regarding our return and before boarding the plane to Casablanca, we had to be provided with a certificate issued by a laboratory in Istanbul, proving that we were tested negatively for Covid19. This actually constitutes a mandatory condition to enter the Moroccan territory. Honestly, after a five-day stay in Istanbul, awaiting the lab result, I had a hard time because I didn’t know what to do if I tested positive.

Post office of Turkey

Conclusion

Through this article, we tried to confirm that the Covid-19 pandemic has also impacted the way we travel by plane.To reassure us, various measures have been taken at airports and on planes. These measures change our experience of traveling by air and are likely to keep putting off many individuals from traveling, until the Covid19 is eventually eradicated under the effect of vaccination.While waiting for the disappearance of covid19, let’s hope that the vaccination process, will restore people’s confidence to use air transport, among other things.

The various airlines have fully assimilated the challenges of vaccination and it is easy to understand the decision to introduce a digital vaccination passport for any passenger wishing to resume their travels by air. Likely, this is the only way to revive air transport activity, at the international level, at least at the same steady pace observed before the pandemic.

By Ahmed Khaouja

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