In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, airlines around the world have been left struggling to return to their former strength. The airline industry has been one of the worst-hit in the last few months, with tourist traffic plummeting.
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Although airlines are now returning to the skies, the future remains uncertain for the industry, with new concerns among passengers and stricter hygiene protocols making the travel experience moving forward a far cry from the one left behind in 2019.
Though easyJet’s inaugural flight took off from Gatwick airport earlier this week, and Ryanair has promised 1,000 flights a day throughout Europe by July, it is unlikely passenger traffic will equate to its usual summer numbers.
“The airline industry, by the very nature of its business model, has taken a huge hit,” Peter Knapp, chairman and chief creative officer at global branding consultancy, Landor.
Mr Knapp has worked with airlines including British Airways, KLM, S7 Airlines, EasyJet, Gulf Air, Etihad, Alitalia, and Aeroflot, and has witnessed first hand the destruction the grounding of flights has caused.
“Safety has always been a critically important issue for the airline industry,” he said.
“Without it, people simply won’t fly.
“Now, because of the pandemic, this is the case more than ever, making the airline industry a very challenging one to be in.”
In recent weeks airlines have begun to implement safety features for both passengers and crew onboard.
easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways have all insisted on the wearing of face coverings onboard.
Meanwhile, Etihad will provide every passenger with a “wellness kit” upon boarding, filled with face masks, gloves and sanitiser.
Though some of the changes may be hard to get used to, Mr Knapp believes this won’t put travellers off, and remains hopeful for air traffic.
“Whilst the new rules centred around hygiene may put some people off travelling, the airlines that will come out of this situation the fastest and the best will be the ones that demonstrate a thorough approach to passenger safety,” he said.
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“Ultimately, passengers will only fly if they feel safe.
“And in this new era of heightened hygiene, health and safety, passengers will have to accommodate new habits and rituals as typical behaviours become radically redefined.”
Even if holidaymakers become accustomed to the new changes, though, Mr Knapp believes other types of travellers may drop in their numbers.
“Business travel may face the biggest challenge, of overcoming new customer habits which appeared overnight and these could well stick.
“Many may question the value of flying when video conferencing has demonstrated a lot of business can be done remotely,” he said.
Indeed, lockdown spawned new innovations in the way traditional workplaces operate, with face-to-face meetings transported into the digital world.
“Our new-found screen-based connections via the likes of Zoom have allowed us to travel digitally,” added Mr Knapp.
“For airlines to bounce back, they are going to need to stimulate demand and tap into new drivers.
“That means thinking of new ways to reframe the travel experience. Until then, recovery could take a long time for the airline industry.”
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Mr Knapp also shared concerns for low-cost carriers, hinting that ticket prices could rise if other methods of revenue could not be sourced.
“The low-cost airline model could be the biggest struggle post-lockdown which, ultimately, could impact cheap flights and holidays in the future,” he said.
“A key enabler of the low-cost model is a high load factor and fast turnaround. However, new rules around health and safety could see passengers waiting up to four hours before they board a plane.
“What’s more, if customers want to social distance and sanitising planes at the end of each leg becomes standard, the low-cost model may struggle to survive.”
This is why innovation is key.
The good news is, that one of the positives of lockdown is that it has given travel bosses the chance to look at ways to invigorate customer experiences.
“This situation could spark an innovation explosion – an evolution from the current low-cost format in terms of model and operation,” said Mr Knapp.
He pointed out: “With planes grounded, this has provided the industry with an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is working and conversely, what isn’t.”
“One area we may see change as a result of the pandemic is the airport experience.
“Whilst it’s been mooted that new rules around hygiene will mean a longer wait before we board a plane, this could present airports with an opportunity to turn into more of a destination – beyond a bland-looking row of shops.
“For many, the first and last impression of a country is that of the airport. However, it’s currently seen as a machine for processing people. The whole model needs to be reconsidered. Now is the opportunity to make airports something more special in the future.”
Though the coming weeks and months remain unclear, Mr Knapp remains optimistic.
“It won’t be an easy ride but the industry, as a whole, will recover,” he concluded.
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