The COVID-19 pandemic has had a staggering impact on the aviation industry, and has created the biggest crisis it has ever faced. While we anxiously await a vaccine or treatment, we’re all looking for discounted fares, increased cleaning protocols and enticing loyalty programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a staggering impact on the aviation industry, and has created the biggest crisis it has ever faced.
As the airlines open domestically, you would think one might see lower fares. But the reality is, the pricing hasn’t dropped significantly-and in some cases, it’s increased. This is because aircraft utilization is limited, with many airlines blocking off the centre seat in economy and more and more passengers moving to premium cabins.
The airlines themselves are doing great work in rigorous cleaning and lots of pre-flight screening. But at the end of the day we’re all at the mercy of asymptomatic passengers who don’t know they have COVID-19 or those who are traveling with symptoms, and failing to declare. Thankfully, those are small in numbers.
As airlines open, they’ll switch equipment. On a route that typically uses a widebody 787, or 777, you may in domestic situations see A320 and A321 air buses running in their place. On board, across all cabins first through to economy, the meal service has changed. There’s no trolley or a la carte selection and cabin crew contact with the passengers has been greatly reduced. In some cases some airlines have removed in-flight entertainment, so the touch screens don’t spread infection.
Lounge closures have occurred since March, but we are seeing one or two airlines reopen their lounges on a socially distant basis.
What are the airlines doing to entice and hold on to loyalty?
We recently saw Emirates and Virgin Atlantic offer insurance enticements to provide the passenger with free insurance. What does that look like? Should they contract COVID disease whilst traveling on the airline, then hospitalization quarantine costs are all covered in the insurance. Virgin Atlantic’s is a generous half a million pounds, whereas Emirates is somewhere around 150,000 Euros.
Some airlines are keeping middle seats empty such as Delta, and others like Air Canada are mandating masks, but actually opening up the center seat. I foresee many of the airlines continuing with no booking fees, through 2020 into 2021, as Lufthansa announced in August. Many of the premier airlines like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, United and American are exceeding status extensions to retain loyalty and perks, and making points redemption easier.
What does the future hold?
On a personal note, I’m not ready to take the risk of contracting COVID, as there’s no reason I need to be traveling right now.
Globally, governments will push toward testing measures in place of lengthy quarantines, and we’ll see more as rapid COVID detection tests come to the market.
Airlines will have to become very flexible with their customers and this has already occurred with United dropping change fees permanently.
Longer term, I believe we’ll see the introduction of technologies to increase hygiene. Touchless seats that connect to bluetooth on your phone to low your seat back or fold out your tray. Touchless lavatories. More segmented and regimented boarding procedures, so people aren’t falling over each other in the aisles.
At airports, I believe we’ll see facial recognition technology and tracking through customs on boarding so customers and staff aren’t touching the same boarding passes. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find plenty of good redemption opportunities for points when travel opens back up again. Once there’s a vaccine, or treatment, that’s the time to watch for the bargains because airlines will begin to clamor for the travel dollars they’ve been denied.
Like you, I look forward to the day where I don’t have to wear a mask in the airport. More importantly, I look forward to not having to sit 10 to 13 hours on a long haul flight wearing a mask and feeling like I’m more about to undergo surgery, than the pleasant experience that flying truly should be.
Stay tuned for more announcements, as we learn them.