A widespread vaccine for COVID-19 hasn’t reached the public yet, but already, airlines are planning for how to handle travelers with and without immunity. On Monday, Alan Joyce, the CEO of Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways, shared that his airline would eventually only allow for vaccinated travelers to board its flights. The move would essentially lock down the spread of the virus through air travel and allow for travelers to move around the globe unhindered by quarantines, though it would only open up the carrier to the select population that had received the vaccine.
Joyce’s marks come as part of the early discussion around how airlines will plan for and accommodate travelers once the vaccine becomes more widespread across the traveling population. Already, some air carriers have enforced strict safety measures in-flight to stem the spread of COVID-19 while in transit; by late October, Alaska, Delta and United had banned over 900 passengers for not complying with mask mandates while some carriers are still blocking middle seats.
Restricting travelers based on level of vaccination may yield a new level of contention between airlines and passengers as carriers look to balance safety with sentiment. In some regions, the virus and the safety precautions taken around the virus have turned into polarizing topics. Beyond the airline-level bans, passengers have turned to social media and public shaming to argue their respective viewpoints.
To help enforce policies, the BBC reports that Qantas is already considering modifying its terms and conditions to ensure that it has grounds to restrict travel from unvaccinated travelers. Other air carriers will need to look into sketching out the same legal boundaries if restrictions are built around vaccinated travelers.
One other consideration for how airlines will allow for vaccinated travelers is in how the public is able to provide credentials. Right now, many routes around the world require travelers to present a recent, negative COVID-19 test in order to fly. On a similar tack, airlines will need to come up with a way to check and verify passenger immunity before the traveler boards the flight — or even reaches the airport.
Those restrictions will also need to adapt based on which countries and populations receive the vaccines first.
For now, passengers and airlines simply need to contend with the prospect of vaccinated-only flights and start preparing. Even though several vaccines have already yielded promising results, it will still be several months until the broad population has access to the drugs. After that point, it’ll still take months until there are enough vaccinated passengers to fill a flight.