December 9, 2022

Safe to fly?

Passenger confidence is still low due to Covid, so Julie Baxter asks APEX/IFSA CEO Dr Joe Leader how airlines and suppliers can rebuild aviation's health and safety credentials

Many passengers are going to be nervous about traveller health post-COVID. How can airlines best reassure potential customers?

Airlines need to centre their efforts entirely around wellbeing. Passengers appreciate candor more than positioning. Reassuring passengers means highlighting areas of genuine concern and then giving more explicit instructions. For example caution is appropriate in public areas but HEPA filters make aircraft a safe environment for dining. Thorough information is what airline customers need to make future travel decisions.

Joe Leader

How will the new apex Health Safety certification scheme help?

Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying provides external accountability for airlines and quarterly validation for their customers. The 58-step certification process links to peer-reviewed research but as the science of COVID-19 evolves so the APEX Health Safety Medical Board will update standards quarterly.

What is involved in the different certification levels?

The aim is to drive a higher and higher focus on customer care and show a ‘gold standard’ in passenger protection. Gold shows proactive steps including HEPA filters. Platinum airlines attain 50% more points for the care and wellbeing, while Diamond airlines more than double the gold-standard score, reaching hospital-grade health safety. 

Are airlines getting behind this?

Following our launch of a dozen airlines worldwide, we are now making additional announcements weekly.  Airlines are strongly behind the initiative We are working through a backlog of two dozen additional airlines now. Around a third of those  reviewed improved their initiatives as a result.

Are suppliers able to actively support the push to build confidence? 

COVID-19 will be a long-haul event but some of the best unified work on building confidence has occurred through IFSA (International Flight Services Association) working with ACA (Airline Catering Association) to create unified guidance for onboard service risk mitigation. F&B service needs to return more strongly and I encourage suppliers to support airlines through a focus on passenger safety.  

Could you envisage there being a similar audit for the supply chain?

An audited process could be conducted for the supply chain but the bigger  concern to date has been around crew interaction in service. Airline best practice is to minimise interactions with single-pass service.  Airlines like Qatar Airways have returned their full-service offerings without negatively impacting flight attendant health safety. It can be done.

Do you forsee a revival in passenger confidence soon?

Return to flying will come in stages. Providing a gold-standard of health safety provides greater certainty for that part of the journey, but governments must encourage a level-set health safety approach too. COVID-19 will likely be an evolving, long-term event but vaccines, testing and the incredible measures being taken by our industry will bring confidence back in time.

Will we see airlines competing over best health and safety offerings? 

Airlines support one another when it comes to customer safety. That’s one of the key elements of the APEX/SimpliFlying scheme: sharing information. Right now, each airline is conducting its own research and we are creating an ‘open komodo’ environment where we can align all our wellbeing efforts. Sometimes customers hear airlines explaining their incredible health safety initiatives as competing. It is not. Every airline is working to educate its customers. Ultimately, that education supports all airlines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.