As people throughout the world follow orders to shelter in place, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on air travel. Millions of passengers have canceled or rescheduled their flights, and airlines are scrambling to stay afloat during this difficult period.
To say the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted air travel would be the understatement of the century. Air travel isn’t likely to look the same again, even after society reopens. Prices will fluctuate due to changes in supply and demand, and airlines will institute new practices as they adapt to changing expectations. Here’s what we’re likely to see moving forward:
- Crossing international borders will require more paperwork…and more timeAs jokes go, riffs about the absurd wait times when passing through customs are already stale, but don’t expect to stop hearing them in the future. In response to coronavirus, you can expect the customs and immigration process to skyrocket.In the short term, many countries, including South Korea and Singapore, are not only checking passports, but they’ve also begun swab testing each and every traveler who steps off an international flight. This practice mitigates the risk of secondary infections, but it also creates longer waits.That said, on-the-spot swab testing isn’t a practical or sustainable long-term solution. Instead, countries are likely to begin asking for health and immunization records, in addition to your passport (technically you’re already supposed to bring your immunization records on international trips, but in our experience, this is rarely enforced). Not only will border protection officers need to double-check your identity, but they’ll also need to verify that your medical history won’t put their citizens at risk.
- Automation and self-service as safety features, rather than a convenienceBetween check-in kiosks, self-tagged bags and mobile apps, airlines have already begun to embrace the growing role of automation and self-service in the travel experience. After COVID-19, however, consumers won’t view these features as luxuries, but instead as necessities. In addition to promoting good hygiene and health practices, a shift towards automation and self-service can also be a boon for airlines. Rather than having to use their limited manpower to perform the same repetitive (yet necessary) duties day in and day out, airlines can rely on technology to accomplish these tasks more efficiently and frugally, leaving staff free to connect with passengers and work on the kinds of problems that require a human touch.
- Air filters, hand sanitizer, and thorough cleaning will be positioned as selling pointsSelecting the right flight is already a complicated dance — it can be tough to find a flight that fits your schedule, contributes to your travel rewards points, and offers the on-flight features you need to get through a long journey without losing your mind. And of course, you’ll need to meet all these requirements without breaking the bank.
In the post-coronavirus era, you’ll have to add a new item to your list of things to consider when booking a flight: safety features. Airlines are likely to tout their state-of-the-art air filtration systems, unlimited hand sanitizer, and extremely thorough cleanings in an effort to persuade travelers that their planes are a safe environment.Airlines aren’t going to stop at onboard features, either. Expect to see a wave of changes to the boarding process designed to reduce contact and promote social distancing whenever possible. For example, Delta began experimenting with virtual queueing in their app earlier in 2020, and they’re likely to broaden the scope of this feature moving forward.
COVID-19 has already changed the face of the airline industry. As the world begins to travel again, passengers will hold a different set of expectations for air travel, and it’ll be up to the airlines to respond. It’ll be a shift, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing: through collaboration and listening to passengers, the airline industry can reshape itself to be safer, more efficient, and more sustainable than ever.