Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from the Australian Government

COVID-Safe Domestic Flying—Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol

The Australian aviation industry developed a Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol to provide clear and consistent guidance regarding risk-minimisation principles and processes in domestic airports and on aircraft for domestic passenger travel.

The Protocol is supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which is made up of state and territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Australian Government's Chief Medical Officer.

The Protocol includes measures agreed to by National Cabinet on Friday 8 January 2021, specifically, the mandatory use of face masks in airports and on domestic commercial flights.

The measures set out in the Protocol are intended to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 for domestic airline passengers and workers. They were informed by health advice provided by Australian authorities, as well as guidance promulgated by international aviation authorities such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

This Protocol provides guidance for industry members and the travelling public to aide in increasing confidence to the travelling public as domestic air travel increases with the reduction in COVID-19 related restrictions on travel.

Passengers should ensure they are informed of the Protocol prior to undertaking travel. However, it is important to note that, while governments strive for consistency, passengers may notice some variations in the implementation of the Protocol in different circumstances. This is due to the different COVID-related measures applied in different states and territories, as well as differences in relevant regulations and legislation.

The Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol complements existing regulatory frameworks (covering issues such as security, disability access, and work health and safety), and recognises industry needs to implement the Protocol consistent with these frameworks which remain enforceable by the relevant regulators.

Finally, while the Protocol is robust, like all COVID-19 measures, it will only work when the measures are used. Success in preventing the spread of COVID-19 through domestic air travel relies on all parties, including passengers, playing their part in minimising risk by adhering to the measures.

As part of this approach, the Australian Government encourages all Australians to download the COVIDSafe app and cooperate with airport and airline guidance and processes when travelling. This aims to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep ourselves and each other healthy.

The Protocol is subject to regular review and may change as circumstances change.

Questions and Answers

Do I have to wear a face mask?

On Friday, 8 January 2021, National Cabinet agreed that the use of face masks within airport terminals and on domestic commercial flights be mandated across Australia.

The requirement to wear a mask in these settings is to be established by public health orders in each state and territory. Generally, the wearing of face masks is required in all Australian airport terminals and on all domestic commercial flights. However, prior to undertaking air travel, you should review the relevant state/territory guidance for the state/territory you will be travelling to and from, as these requirements may vary.

State/Territory Public Health Orders / face masks information

A face mask is not a substitute for other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand hygiene and cough etiquette. When you wear a mask, it is important you follow other precautionary measures and that you wear your mask safely to avoid increasing the risk of infection to yourself and others. You must be careful about how you put on and take off your mask, not touching the outside of the mask while using it, and disposing of it correctly.

More information on current advice on the use of face masks.

Why isn"t physical distancing being mandated on board aircraft?

To date, there have been limited published reports of COVID-19 transmission in flight, particularly where appropriate control measures have been implemented.

The risk appears to be mitigated by forward facing seats, the height of the seats, the ventilation and filtration systems, the use of masks and other controls applied prior to flight and inflight, including hygiene and environmental measures.

Where possible, physical distancing will be facilitated by airlines, and family groups seated together with spacing between groups and individuals.

Why don"t you need a temperature check at the airport?

Not every person who has COVID-19 will have a high temperature. It is only one symptom of COVID-19, and some people don"t display symptoms at all. This is why layers of measures are used to reduce risk, rather than relying on a single measure.

Airlines and airport operators are responsible for meeting a regulatory obligation to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of their passengers and their workers. No single measure to achieve this is foolproof, so the aviation industry has adopted a layered approach, using multiple measures to address risks, as a back-up in case one measure doesn"t work as well as intended.

For example, your bag gets screened at security, but sometimes it will also be tested for explosives, and police at airports are trained to look for suspicious behaviour among passengers.

Some airlines and airports may choose to include measures such as temperature checking. This is not a substitute for other COVID-19 prevention measures, such as practicing good hand hygiene, use of face masks and physical distancing where possible.

Why do airlines and airports have their own risk management plans which can require different things?

Airlines and airports, like all businesses, have to manage all sorts of risks.

It is not realistic or desirable for governments to have detailed rules about how to manage every possible issue.

Instead, many regulatory frameworks require businesses to manage risks by implementing measures which are “reasonably practicable”.

Businesses face significant penalties if they breach their obligations in this respect.

Risks around COVID-19 are no different.

Each airport and airline faces different risks, and what is “reasonably practicable” will depend on the circumstances.

Are airlines and airports required to follow this Protocol?

The Protocol is a framework and helps the aviation industry and travellers think about the type of risks that may arise in the passenger journey and the types of measures the industry could implement and passengers can follow to manage these risks. Airlines and airports have agreed to use this Protocol to guide their own COVID-Safe plans.

It is very important for airlines and airports to help passengers get a sense of what they can expect when they travel, and to reassure the community that government and industry is working together to keep the community safe. At the same time it is also very important for the travelling public to be aware of the Protocols and practice appropriate COVID-safe measures and follow reasonable instruction from airlines and airports to help keep the Australian community safe.

Airlines and airports must continue to meet their regulatory obligations (such as workplace health and safety) and any applicable State and Federal Health Orders and will face significant penalties for non-compliance.

Where can I get more information?

Australian Government Department of Health—official medical advice, and information on how the Australian Government Department of Health is monitoring and responding to COVID-19.

Infection Control Expert Group—official advice on how to use face masks.

COVIDSafe app—speeds up contacting people exposed to COVID-19.

Coronavirus Australia app—allows you to stay up to date with official information and advice about the COVID-19 situation.

You should also check individual State and Territory jurisdictions" advice on interstate travel.