Our wanderlust will never be curbed by the coronavirus. If anything, months cooped up indoors has given us itchier feet than ever before. But the future of air travel remains uncertain. In fact, some think it will take until 2022 before demand for flights returns to the way it was pre-COVID-19. Let’s hope not!
We scoured the facts available and spoke to several anonymous friends in the air industry to get their insights on how air travel is likely to change following the coronavirus pandemic.
What changes can we expect to see at airports?
Social distancing is the new norm for all of us, and this will continue to apply in airports. Expect screens and safety barriers between staff and customers, and markers on the floor to ensure all travelers keep a safe distance. Hand sanitizers will be distributed throughout airports to remind you to lose the germs, fast.
No sniffing, no sneezing!
If you’re traveling from an outbreak hotspot, there’s a chance you might be refused entry without a certificate of immunity. And forget trying to fly if you have a cold. Any bouts of coughing, spluttering, and/or sneezing in an airport – or god forbid, on a plane – will likely be met with fear and disdain by your fellow travelers for quite some time. If the COVID-19 doesn’t get you, embarrassment will.
“I took three flights to Amsterdam from South Australia and we had to wear face masks the whole way except for when we were eating. I had to smell my own nasty airplane-food breath the whole way behind the masks. I had three masks with me. The only mask that didn’t suffocate me was a designer one I found through an Instagram influencer.”Anonymous traveller
Biometrics will be big, but not as big as immigration lines
Boarding passes have been available on smartphones for a few years already but following the pandemic, we may see more things being verified with facial recognition to pass through security and onto an aircraft. We could see the dawn of a totally touchless industry [source].
On-site testing for COVID-19 at airports could also be on the cards, which means longer lines at immigration in certain airports. If you thought the lines at Heathrow or JFK’s immigration control were painful before, imagine what it will be like having to queue up, take a swab test, and wait around for the results.
For travelers coming into the Netherlands, Schiphol is posting regular updates.
We have the cleanest air!
Air quality on airplanes is likely to be a big thing, which airlines will advertise proudly. Some airlines are already starting to brag about their filtration systems to stop people from canceling their flights.
In case you’re wondering about general cleanliness on airplanes… Qatar Airways was named the World’s Best Airline at the 2019 World Airline Awards, with Singapore Airlines ranked second, and ANA in third place.
As well as air quality rivalry, we’re likely to see changes to in-flight menus, blankets, and onboard magazines. Basically, anything you might usually touch onboard will have to be examined more closely.
According to a study from Marketplace, which analyzed over 100 samples on 18 flights in 2018, the seat-back pocket is the second most contaminated area in the cabin. Number one is the headrest [source]. The tables on trains are cleaned even less than those on planes. So maybe touching things on public transport was never a good idea in the first place? Keep washing those hands, guys.
Will the cost of air travel increase?
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) international carriers, including Delta and United Airlines, had on average less than two months of cash at their disposal to cover expenses before the coronavirus hit. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that flights will be more expensive going forward.
A Dollar Flight Club analysis reveals we may see airfares decreasing by 35% through 2021. However, long-term prices might rise by over 27% as demand for flights starts to outstrip supply.
Will it be like it was after 9/11?
The paper from IATA reads: “Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic will not be easy…. It will have a far deeper impact on the way the air transport industry will operate in future than previous industry shocks, such as 9/11, had.”
In fact, many predictions regarding how hard the travel industry will be hit following COVID-19 have been based on reduced demand for flights following the September 11, 2001 attack, and the ensuing global recession that took us down in 2008/2009. Following both these events, many airlines stayed competitive by dropping prices. They also reduced the number of routes available and flew with less frequency.
“I traveled for business within South Africa. When I arrived at the airport everybody was in masks and gloves. Everyone had to sanitize their hands and put on a pair of gloves at the entrance, then they had to do the same thing at the check-in counter (we all got another pair of gloves), at the security check, when you entered the walkway onto the plane. The food was wrapped in all kinds of plastic. It might have been funny if it wasn’t so strange and a bit scary.”
Will we still be able to travel freely?
Freedom is a tenuous concept these days, but the rise of travel bubbles is imminent. We can expect bi-lateral relationships between countries with lower cases of COVID-19, and quarantine periods that could change on a whim.
Going forwards, passengers and travelers will have to take responsibility for knowing the rules of the country they are going to, similar to the way we already check the rules around visa regulations and border crossings. These will be different from country to country and will continue to change overnight. An insider predicts:
“The industry will begin to recover domestic travel, then within continents and only then will it become intercontinental again.”Travel insider
Some airlines may take over routes that are normally exploited by newly-bankrupt competition and may grow exponentially as a result.
However, if an airline drastically increases its prices, people will be less eager to fly with that specific airline and will either find an alternative means of transportation or decide not to travel at all. One thing we know for sure is that the world’s economy just took an enormous hit that will be felt by many for years to come.
How will business travel be affected?
Nobody knows for sure, but some big companies will have certainly woken up to the fact that traveling in person isn’t always necessary in the current age of technology. All the recent Skype and Zoom calls prove that large get-togethers, conference calls, and meetings don’t have to be conducted after hours of long-haul travel.
Digital/online meetings could become the new norm for many companies looking to cut costs after the pandemic. The lockdown has shown us we don’t have to grow our carbon footprints to get a job done.
How will leisure travel be affected?
Would a lack of little luxuries stop you from traveling? Our air alliance insider tells us:
“Some airlines won’t be able to sell desirable seats, known as ancillaries, (paying for more legroom, etc), as they will need to allow for more room in general.”Airline insider
No one can predict what the future for leisure travel may bring. Until a vaccine for the coronavirus is found, some previously frequent travelers may likely feel uncomfortable boarding a plane.
It’s also likely that more people will lose their jobs in the economic crisis, meaning they will no longer be able to afford to travel as often. Weekend breaks on cheap flights may take a backseat to trips within our own countries; and as borders reopen, people are likely to opt to take trains over planes.
Most trains have windows that can open, after all. They’re also better for the environment. And sometimes train tickets are cheaper than plane tickets.
Along with border restrictions and emerging second waves of COVID-19 cases in some destinations, it seems likely that flying for pleasure will almost certainly not be the same for the foreseeable future.