There was a recent report named: “The Rise of Sanitised Travel”, released by SimpliFlying. This report highlighted about 70 different areas where travellers experience will be changed or be introduced from scratch to assist airlines in restoring confidence for flying post COVID-19
Here are a few Key highlights of the report:
- Going touchless: This may be seen as touchless cabins & check-in terminals, seatback pockets being left empty and introduction of touchless kiosks with either scan code or voice command control option, at airport terminals
- In-Flight Janitor: Along the lines of what American aviation saw post 9/11, which was in-flight Sky Marshalls, post-COVID-19 could see an introduction of an in-flight janitor with the specific responsibility of keeping the cabin clean, especially high-touch areas like toilet door handles, etc.
- Sanitagged Checkin Baggage: Travellers can expect the baggage to go through fogging, electrostatic or UV-disinfection
- THA: Post COVID-19 travel could see the introduction of Transportation Health Authority
Although the above changes may sound very practical according to the need of the hour, all policies in long run will be derived from the learnings and experiences gained by implementation of short term policies. It will also depend on the timeline of the possible vaccine or cure of Coronavirus.
Changes in short run:
Gaining the confidence of travellers in the short run and operate profitable flights is the biggest challenge. One most debated recommendation being debated worldwide is the proposal to keep the middle seats empty
looking at the already mounting losses, having all the middle seats empty in their flights seems out of question for many, there are however many airlines in favour of this move for different reasons.
Why would any airline consider flying at partial capacity in times when most of them are struggling to survive?
Customer Confidence: This is a key factor why any airline would choose to fly with partial capacity.
Mr. Johan Lundgren, Chief Executive, EasyJet told BBC in an interview that he is going to do so as he believes customers would like this to happen, and that it was a suggested measure that could be taken for a short period of time until flying resumes.
Other airlines that have similar plans are Alaska Airlines and European budget carrier Wizz Air.
Competitive Edge: Unless the industry unites in its decision, it is bound to become the battle of the fittest, the airline that can afford to stick to this option will end up gaining an advantage over its competitors.
So, what reasons do the airlines opposing this recommendation have?
The Logic of Safe Distancing:
Labelling, the strategy of removing the middle seats as a part of the future strategy as “absurd”, Mr. Barry Diller, Chairman Expedia Group, in a recent TV interview with Margaret Brennan, on CBS news show, Face The Nation, said perhaps planes will get cleaner but the idea that social distancing can be effective in airplanes, restaurants, theatres, and “in these kinds of arenas is a myth”,
What’s the Indian Airline Industry saying?
According to an article published in Business Standard, the Indian airline industry stakeholders in a meeting with govt. officials rejected the proposal saying that this proposal didn’t guarantee passenger safety and that it would slow down the recovery process
Mr. Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director at low-cost airline SpiceJet said that the proposal to keep middle seat empty was mere optics and that keeping a safe distance between passengers on the window seat and aisle seat was impossible. He instead suggested making facemasks and gloves mandatory for all passengers.
An executive from IndiGo said that leaving almost one -third of the seats empty would mean increased airfares that passengers may not be willing to pay.
Some of the airlines that have resumed their operations have already begun experimenting between measures for safe travel and looking at ways of keeping themselves profitable.
Jetstar Asia started operating again with around 60 percent capacity at the max to ensure safe distancing and making it mandatory passengers and crew required to wear a mask. They have also chosen to cut back on all inflight meals and will only serve water on their flights.
Several other airlines such as Air New Zealand, KLM, United Airlines too are taking similar steps to ensure social distancing.
Emirates airlines on another hand recently conducted on-site COVID-19 tests for its passengers being flown to Tunisia. Similar measures have been introduced at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport for passengers from “high-risk” destinations.
The New Normal
The new normal is going to be a set of policies that ensure the safety of passengers as well as the financial interests of the airlines.
Assistant professor Terence Fan, who is an economist at Singapore Management University and specialises in transport, according to an article published in CAN Singapore, thinks that airlines may still continue to sell cheaper tickets for some time even after the COVID-19 effect cools down, to encourage people to start flying.
Still maintaining a policy of social distancing when flying their passengers, may provide as an additional benefit for passengers and will become a selling point for airlines. This may become a ‘Normal’ in the short run, however in the long run airlines will have to resort increasing the airfare to become profitable again, marking the New Normal in the long run