Expert insights

Listen hard and collaborate now

April 28, 2020

Information is power. We need to arm ourselves with as many expert insights as we can find and share our ideas on how to navigate our industry through the COVID chaos. If you are an expert with insights to share do get in touch and Onboard Hospitality is happy to host your solutions. Here our editor, Julie Baxter, shares an overview of the panel insights gleaned from a Fast Future moderated webinar debate on post-pandemic scenarios for air transport…

For me the session was both horrifying and heartening in equal measure but the key take-aways were that collaboration is absolutely essential and recovery is possible. Collaboration is something our industry is good at so, take heart and join the conversations, the solutions will follow.

Research by Fast Future and FTE suggests the number of passenger flights currently operating is down 95% with those surveyed anticipating that this will slowly increase to 50% of 2019 capacity by the end of the year but that it will be at least another year, if not two, before it returns to pre-COVID-19 levels. Domestic flying is expected to recover first. By region, demand in Asia is expected to be the first to revive.

The rate of recovery seems to hang on two somewhat unpredictable outcomes – the levels of global recession ultimately caused by lockdowns worldwide, and the ability of the industry to collaborate on the innovations that will give governments the confidence to allow flying to restart, and passengers the confidence to board.

At one extreme some believe travel will need to become an almost hearmatically sealed experience, with every element of an international jaunt santitised with social distancing, antibody checks, certifications, dedicated corona-free lounges, aircraft and hotels all in place. But more believe that those airlines that can show they offer the safest experience will win out, and the safest experience will be achieved by collaboration on certifications and contactless processes from kerb to gate.

Changed processes – as were seen regarding liquids – will become the norm and they will be largely dependent on more technology at airports and more pre-departure checks and certifications.

Digital and automation investment is high on airline/airport priorities for immediate investment. Travel needs to be more convenient and more seamless, passengers were already demanding this, and this could be the moment to make it happen. Sustainability remains on the radar as it is expected to remain a priority with consumers, so a rigorous focus on smaller, more efficient aircraft, flying non-stop, to certified, ‘safe’ cities seems the most likely foundation for recovery.

Social distancing measures have already been implemented on some flights with middle seats left empty and many touchpoints – including much catering and comfort items – removed. But it seems agreed the industry needs to reset expectations but not downgrade standards. Social listening intelligence suggests fear of getting stranded because of the virus, and worries around F&B contamination are currently two of the biggest concerns, that must be addressed.

On the plus side, much of the technology and automation required to allay fears is known and available, and empty airports and aircraft mean there is an opportunity to introduce changes many in the industry were already working towards. Biometrics and digital processes for people and baggage will be accelerated and accepted. The biggest priority is to align principles and practical processes worldwide so every nation is working to the same standards and systems (as with terrorism). These conversations and collaborations are underway to create a global plan. Establishing these procedures and a vaccine will be key motivators to recovery.

There is also widespread recognition that there needs to be a communication strategy for aviation, built on data science – to get clear understanding of the anxieties and demotivators on travel – and combining messages on safety with the emotive joys/benefits of travel.

Mindsets are changing and travel may change too, but it will recover. The industry is serious and thoughtful with many deep thinking, fact-based assessment and planning in hand. Ours is an industry with built-in flexibility and resilience, used to ups and downs. It is an industry well capable of reviewing a change of environment and adapting to that environment.

Airlines, airports and suppliers need to co-create the future, it’s there for them to reinvent. They need to collaborate, test solutions, share best practice and good ideas and move the conversation on for government and the public with confidence. Key will be getting all stakeholders involved in the conversations from the start, so they all take ownership of the change needed and believe in it.

It won’t be easy but it can be done. Good luck, and be sure you are part of the conversation.

The expert panel debating these insights included:
Rohit Talwar – CEO – Fast Future (Moderator), UK; Dr, Joe Leader: CEO – Airline Passenger Experience Association & International Flight Services Association; Daniel Coleman – Founder & CEO – Future Travel Experience, UK; Antoine Rostworowski – Deputy Director General, Programmes and Services – Airports Council International World, Canada; Ivan Iliev – Head of European Programmes, Projects, and Strategy Department, Bulatsa, Bulgaria.