The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of life, and most dramatically our ability to travel. As we react to and address the immediate effects of mass shutdowns and border closures, the aviation and transportation industries are turning their attention to what is to come.
A new normal
Most agree that there will be a transition/recovery period from the time when travel begins to resume, and then ultimately returns to a normal level. For now, industry experts and facility operators must examine how to carry on in a “new normal” to protect passenger health and safety in airports and transportation terminals.
Airport arrival, check-in and boarding procedures will continue to change. However, short and long term actions can be taken, while considering what the longer-term effects of a post-pandemic travel world will look like. Furniture is an integral part of the aircraft boarding journey, but as an item that is frequently touched, certain precautions will be necessary. In the short-term, a rethinking of materials selection and layout configuration options are ways to create strategies for increased safety and separation. At Arconas we have spent time thinking about this issue, engaged stakeholders, and recommend the following short-term strategies.
Choose materials that are easy to clean and disinfect
For upholstered seating, choose fabrics such as vinyl or leather that can be easily wiped clean, don’t collect dirt, and are able to be disinfected in situ. Solid material seating such as polyurethane seats are a good option because of their cleanability and anti-microbial properties. Polyurethane is often used in hospitals and medical offices because of these features, but also are widely used by transportation facilities. Treated wood and metal seating are also good alternatives as they can easily be wiped clean and disinfected.
Under normal circumstances, these seating types can be cleaned with soap and water. For additional disinfection, most vinyl upholstery can also be disinfected with a solution of 10% household bleach and 90% water. In facilities where bleach is not available, we recommend contacting your seating supplier to verify which disinfectants are safe to use on your exact upholstery type. Prior to COVID-19, there has been a trend toward experimenting with other types of upholstery such as woven fabrics, but for now caution should be taken with choosing fabric that is porous. Any privacy screen materials should be a hard surface that can be easily cleaned or disinfected such as metal, plastic, plexiglass, or wood.
Configure furniture to encourage physical distancing
Regulations around physical distancing will likely remain in place in the short term and the foreseeable transition/recovery period. To support physical distancing in hold room areas, movable physical barriers such as dividers can be added between seats or groups of seats.
These additional barriers should consider people traveling alone as well as in small groups and allow for variable sizes. Eliminating some armrests on sculptural or longer lounge pieces will allow for passengers to “self-distance” according to recommended guidelines. Additionally, adding tables between seats will encourage people to leave space and self-distance from others. 3-Seat clusters are also a good way to encourage self-distancing. The unique configuration allows all users to face away from each other, and there is plenty of personal space.
Add barriers to counters
As we are already seeing in many public places, information desks, kiosks, and check-in desks may have glass or plexiglass panels added to them to create a safe barrier between passengers and facility staff. The counters themselves should also be made of highly cleanable materials such as metal, laminate or solid surface that can be wiped and disinfected frequently.
Incorporate seating options with privacy panels
For individuals, choose seating with high-backs and privacy panels with a cleanable surface. There will be a time after the peak of the pandemic where public life will slowly open back up, but it will be done with an abundance of caution. Implementing these suggestions are part of the many ways transportation facilities can show they care about passenger and employee safety, and make people feel comfortable traveling again.
We don’t purport to have all the answers. During this transition period, Arconas will continue to work closely with clients and stakeholders to make the necessary adjustments and provide parts and services that will evolve out of this crisis. At Arconas we are having daily discussions about how to best serve our industry and welcome all input. As an essential service, we are maintaining operations within mandated safety parameters while working closely with the transportation industry to help support their urgent requirements. We have many existing furniture options readily available for temporary and long term solutions and we will continue to explore more options and solutions as needs evolve.