Changes in Air Travel Due to Coronavirus Are Here to Stay

Remember in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks what happened with airlines? The plethora of changes – the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, taking belts and shoes off, water bottles that must be discarded before being screened, and more – live on to this day.

At first, it likely created a nuisance for passengers, especially business travelers, frequent fliers and those who are just generally creatures of habit. Now it’s just par for the course.

The reactions and changes by the industry were much-needed.

Just as the same reactions and changes being made by the industry now in response to the coronavirus pandemic will be for the better, said a panel of experts on Tuesday who held a video conference entitled “Future of Airports: A Need for Radical Change.”

“The virus forced us, as a team, to focus on the changing needs of the customer,” said Maria Walter, Managing Director of Product and Brand Strategy at United Airlines. “COVID has sparked some innovation.”

Walter pointed to United’s brainstorm of touchless kiosks that were quickly implemented after the severity of the virus cut the demand for travel down to practically nothing. The kiosks allow for touchless boarding passes and baggage tags.

Walter was joined on the Zoom call by Douglas E. Kreulen, A.A.E., President & CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville (Tenn.) Airport; Jacques Malot, VP Airport Customer Services, USA, for Air France-KLM and the COO of Terminal One, a solely international terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York; and Kristen Clonan, Founder & President of the aviation consultancy Airfluence.

As travel begins to reopen, consumers are fearing the worst as they consider booking their next flight. But they shouldn’t think that way, the panelists said, especially as new technology emerges.

Malot acknowledged that will take time, however.

“The terminals are so clean. I’ve never seen them so clean since I don’t know, their inception,” he said. “Let’s face it, being in an airport waiting for a flight is a stressful moment. ‘Where is my seat? Will I get my seat? Who is sitting next to me?’ It’s going to take time to remove the fear.”

Airports and airlines have improved the cleaning and sanitizing of planes and facilities as the industry faces a critical time to better manage and improve the traveler experience now and into the future.

“The airports and airlines will enforce the rules,” Kreulen said. “We have to get that comfort level back where passengers feel comfortable walking through the airport.”

Kreulen predicted we will still see some things like temperature checks far into the future, and Walter agreed.

“People need to understand that a health assessment is going to be part of the future (of air travel),” she said. “A three-in-one bag with a snack, a beverage and hand sanitizer, that’s going to be part of the future, too.”

Clonan said she sees improvement in the area of connectivity in airports, airlines, airport restaurant and other vendors work together.

“In the future, you’ll not only get reminders about your flights but also about where you can get lunch or a beverage along the way (to the gate),” she said.

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