With IATA predicting it will be 2024 before air travel returns to pre COVID-19 levels and over 30 percent of the world's 26,000 aircraft grounded the air travel industry faces a crisis like no other. The passenger experience is set to change dramatically as airlines grapple with the twin issues of cost and passenger health. Central to its recovery is the restoration of passenger confidence.
With a lengthy period of recovery predicted, airlines are having to deal with a structural change in air travel economics. The nature of the airline industry is that costs of idle aircraft run to thousands of US dollars every day. Full-service airlines depend on the business traveler to make their economics work and low-cost airlines depend on utilization and passenger density. Both are under threat.
COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of air travel experience. One that differs dramatically from what has gone before. Over and above ensuring that effective sanitization measures are in place, airlines are finding ways to keep passengers safe while encouraging air travel. Emirates for example were the first airline to offer COVID 19 insurance.4 Several airlines have collaborated on the introduction of COVID-19 health passes. This will standardize a globally recognized proof that a passenger has tested negative for the virus before a flight, using a digital certificate downloaded to a mobile phone.5
Much greater investment in self- service can reduce staff passenger interactions and self-protective pouches, a package that includes a mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and an information leaflet with tips on how to prevent the virus spreading, will replace amenity kits.
Critical areas for getting aviation back on its feet include the development of agreed protocols between countries regarding safe travel. This requires co-ordination of the whole ecosystem that impacts the customer journey, including pre and post flight rapid testing regimes, predictable border controls and effective treatment of any of those impacted by COVID-19 while traveling.
The industry faces extensive disruption for the next few years and there are several strategic questions to be answered clearly:
How do we make every aspect of the passenger journey contactless and touch free?
How do we respond to the rapidly growing environmental and sustainability concerns?
What other standards of passenger safety do we need to adopt (e.g. QR codes, health assessments etc.)?
Given the state of the industry in 2022, 2023 and 2024, how do we manage our economics and right size decisions?
How can we keep our staff motivated and engaged during the right sizing activity?
How do we continue to differentiate in a touchless environment?
Ultimately, whether passengers will feel confident enough to take to the skies depends on consumer confidence as recovery measures are put in place by governments, airports and airline operators and the sense amongst passengers of whether airlines and the whole travel ecosystem have adequately addressed their concerns regarding COVID-19 and its bearing on air travel.
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Global Head of Aviation
ANA (All Nippon Airways)
JAL (Japan Airlines)