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Opinion columnist John Harris argues for increased safety measures on airplanes. In-person classes resume at the University of Kansas on Aug 24.


Questions regarding the status of the University of Kansas’ 2020-21 academic year were partly resolved this Monday. This confirmation of in-person classes resuming on Aug. 24, and the fall semester ending after Thanksgiving, means that international and out-of-state students are forced to navigate the reality of travel in a nation afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

While airlines and other transportation companies are taking measures to protect travelers, they need to go a step further on a permanent basis. 

Major airlines recognize that the only way to retain travelers with concerns about COVID-19 is to publicly announce precautionary steps. For example, Southwest Airlines began their Promise campaign to persuade costumers that air travel with them is healthy and safe. American Airlines and Delta boast similar protections with promises of physical distancing and round-the-clock sanitizing of touch points.

Airlines need to do more than the bare minimum. If you have ever traveled by air, then you are well aware of the stuffy, tightly packed nature of flights. Airplanes have been specifically designed in order to achieve the largest capacity of passengers, most notably with the design of the Boeing 747.

Measures must be taken against the maximum capacity of larger aircraft. Even with corporate promises of physical distancing, Chicago fliers reported being placed on a fully packed airplane. While this doesn’t make sense from a public health standpoint, it makes sense from a financial standpoint.

No one will dispute the fact that air travel has been historically low during the coronavirus pandemic. Most would agree it makes sense for airlines to take any measure they can think of to save money during a financially turbulent time. However, it is irresponsible for both public health and future business plans to operate fully loaded planes during a global pandemic. 

Part of KU’s response plan for a return to campus specifically addressed university sanctioned travel. Most domestic and international travel is still considered nonessential at this point.

However, for essential activities, KU has determined that air travel is not currently considered as an option. Instead, KU recommends driving. This is a reflection of a lack of confidence in air travel by major institutions that are prioritizing the health of their faculty, staff and students.

To mitigate this stigma, airlines must permanently retrofit their aircraft and commit to enacting current cleaning procedures into standard protocol. This will be at a considerable cost to the airliners, which will likely reflect in the price of plane tickets. However, many will agree this is a necessary sacrifice for more room and a safer flight.

John Harris is a sophomore from Shawnee studying political science.