International travel in the time of COVID-19

How Air France ensures a safe and sanitised passenger journey while detailing the stringent sanitisation of aircrafts


In the recent Safe Travel Barometer, an initiative by tech provider Safe Travel Technologies which monitors global traveller health and safety measures, Air France topped the ranks of the safest airlines in October.

Air France is one of the world’s leading airlines who is still conducting international flights into and out of South Africa on a regular basis. With these regular flights comes the strictest of health and safety standards. It has been just over a week since the South African government announced that South African borders would completely open with the removal of the “red-list”, but what does the entire travel process look like for passengers wanting to travel internationally?

Here’s what to expect if you’re travelling internationally from Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

Pre-flight, at the airport

To ensure a safe and smooth international travel process, ACSA has engaged with all of the airlines and stakeholders in the aviation value chain to ensure the best process and protocols are implemented at the airport to ensure passenger and staff safety at all times. Some of these measures include:

  • A negative PCR test is required to board any international flight
  • Masks are mandatory for anyone entering the airport
  • Limited entry points and limited access points throughout the airport
  • Thermal scanners at these various entry points taking the body temperature of travellers before being allowed entry into the airport terminal. Should a traveller have a high temperature, they will be taken to the medical clinic immediately for further checks
  • There are numerous sanitising stations throughout the airport for use by anyone in the airport terminal
  • Terminal A at OR Tambo, which was for all international flight check-ins, is closed. All passengers travelling internationally will now use Terminal B for check-in
  • There are social distancing stickers placed on the floor throughout the terminal to ensure travellers remain at a safe distance while queueing and while at the various checkpoints. There are also social distancing stickers on certain seats throughout the airport to avoid passengers sitting too close together
  • At the check-in counters, in addition to the face masks worn by airport staff, they are also wearing a face shield. The check-in counters have also been fitted with a perspex shield to ensure no physical contact between airline staff and passengers
  • Passengers are all expected to fill in and submit the mandatory health declaration form at passport control. It is at this step in the process that they will also go through a body scanner and x-ray machine (ensuring limited physical contact between them and airport security and staff)
  • Once a passenger receives their boarding pass, it will not be touched by any other member of staff or crew throughout, and the passenger will scan their own boarding pass

Boarding, catering and on-board services for Air France flights

“All airlines are governed by incredibly strict aviation health and safety standards. This was the case before COVID-19, and has been strengthened and reinforced during the pandemic to ensure passenger and staff safety as priority number one. Air France-KLM conducted over 100 repatriation flights during the height of the pandemic and so had already begun reinforcing these health and safety measures then. On top of that, we are taking further measures to ensure absolute safety of all of our passengers and crew,” says Wouter Vermeulen, General Manager Southern Africa at Air France-KLM.

Before every single Air France flight, the aircraft is disinfected with the highest grade disinfectant that has been approved by civil aviation, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (ESEA) and Boeing. Every surface area of each plane is sanitised: from the ceiling to the floor; the toilets and lavatory sink; in the galleys (where meals are prepared); bag racks and overhead lockers; seatbelts; headrests; screens, headsets and remotes; and more. Once an aircraft has been completely sanitised, it receives two certificates confirming the highest level of sanitisation has been concluded, which is then given to the captain and the cockpit, and another given to local authorities. There are also stickers affirming the sanitisation process which are stuck onto the doors of the aircraft – essentially a seal of approval which all passengers entering the aircraft can see for themselves.

When looking at boarding Air France flights pre-COVID, boarding was split into five zones separated by ticket type and boarding class. Now boarding is being split into 10 zones separated by seating, allowing passengers seated at the back of the plane to board first. This method ensures passengers shouldn’t pass each other on the way to their seats, ensuring minimal physical contact between people on board the plane.

During the flight, while physical interaction and contact between passengers and crew is limited, in-flight services continue. All meals (which are prepared in a kitchen with incredibly strict health and safety protocols in place) are now pre-packed on a tray and handed to every passenger throughout the various cabins on each flight. Each of these meal trays are individually sealed ensuring no physical contact with the food by crew. Passengers are still served drinks during the flight and can also still enjoy the in-flight entertainment.

Wearing of masks by cabin crew as well as all passengers are mandatory on board all Air France flights, and masks must be worn for the duration of the flight.

Air in the cabin is renewed every three minutes and HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are used to filter 99.9% of the smallest viruses, including the Corona virus. Crucially, cabin air is not circulated around the aircraft in a way that would allow the virus to reach other passengers. Air is sucked out of the cabin using vents in the floors, passed through the HEPA filters, mixed with fresh air from the outside and injected back in through air outlets and individual vents. This vertical movement of air forms a protective barrier between rows, making it highly unlikely that the virus could pass between passengers. All Air France aircrafts are equipped with HEPA filters to ensure that cabin air is as safe as it can possibly be.

With stringent health and safety protocols at every single step of the passenger journey and ensuring that the aircraft is cleaned and sanitised using equipment and product approved by the ESEA, Air France is committed to creating an environment where passengers are protected and, more importantly, feel safe during each and every step of their journey abroad.

On arrival, at the airport

On arrival at a respective destination, certain health and safety processes have been put in place to ensure a safe arrival after an international flight which means that arriving at your country of choice may look a little different to what you’re used to.

  • Once the aircraft has landed, on-board announcements will be made to facilitate exit and promote social distancing
  • An additional screening by the Port Health Authority will take place after landing to ensure that you are entering the country without any symptoms of COVID-19
  • Once passengers have made their way through passport control, special signage and announcements will be made in the baggage arrival area to ensure that social distancing continues