COVID-19 has been the biggest crisis in global aviation history and is bound to leave an indelible mark on the troubled industry.
In the same way that airport security changed after 9/11, the pandemic will definitely change the way airlines operate and how passengers think about flying.
As a result, all aspects of air travel can be changed forever, from airport procedures to in-flight meals and even our plane seat design.
“The future of aviation has definitely changed,” Linda Celestino, vice president of guest services at Etihad Airways, told news.com.au.
Related: Follow the latest coronavirus updates
“Even when passenger and cargo loads return to their previous capacity, they are set to look very different from what travelers are used to.
“In the Federation, we are starting to see the interactive ways in which we have adapted to the pandemic as the new normal, with health and hygiene playing a greater role in the travel experience.”
Etihad Airways has resumed many of its international flights with major changes being made to keep passengers and crew safe and reassured at the end of the pandemic.
They include mandatory COVID-19 tests before boarding, changes to how food and drinks are served in lounges and on the plane, social distancing during boarding and disembarking, as well as crew personal protective equipment and an updated plane cleaning schedule.
The federation has also introduced Health Ambassadors as part of a new health and hygiene initiative – dedicated on-board crew members who have been specially trained to answer questions and provide support to passengers during COVID-19.
“We have already received a significant response from travelers for this initiative, and we look forward to building on our wellness program over the coming months,” said Ms. Celestino.
“Our wellness ambassadors are available 24/7, so guests can reach out to questions anytime in the lead up to their trip. On board, Health and Wellness Ambassadors complement the roles of our cabin crew members to provide an enhanced level of customer care, with a strong focus on health and wellness. ”
The pandemic has also forced airlines to rethink their reservation policies – Etihad is now offering free COVID-19 insurance with airline tickets, and more flexibility for customers who have to cancel travel plans.
“The road to recovery will focus on rebuilding confidence in international travel,” said Ms. Celestino.
Throughout the global industry, processes and regulations are still being defined, but we are in the union
We do our best to protect our guests and help them feel safe, comfortable and enjoyable
Peace of mind.”
What other ways can fly be changed?
Food and drink
Providing food and drink has been one of the most notable changes that have occurred on board during the COVID era.
Qantas and Virgin Australia have suspended meals and drinks on board and are only offering bottles of water and snack packets, a trend we’re seeing all over the world.
Meanwhile, in Business Class and First Class, freshly painted foods have been replaced by ready-to-eat meals.
As concerns about hygiene persist, food and drink will likely remain different for some time.
Design firms have been busy working on new airplane seats that could eliminate the risk of virus transmission between passengers.
The designs include plastic screens to protect passengers’ faces, and middle-facing seats
The global aviation industry is experiencing billions of dollars in bleeding due to the unprecedented contraction in travel caused by COVID-19.
We might pay for it for years.
The sheer cost of operating international flights, coupled with declining passenger numbers, means airfare prices could rise.
There could be good news for budget travelers, Virgin Australia CEO Paul Score said at a business summit on Thursday.
“There are a number of restrictions on airlines operating today, which really limit the number of people you can take on the plane, so they change the economics of having to operate the plane completely. Some of them are insured by the government but there are still some huge airfare prices.”
“When the skies open up again, there will be a need to stimulate demand and you will see some competitive airline fares when travel is safe.”
No more first class
There was talk that COVID-19 would ring the death knell for the international aviation class, which had already been unpopular with travelers before the pandemic struck.
Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa were among the airlines that suspended first-class services, not only because the virus has affected the provision of hot drinks and meals, but because many aircraft with first-class cabins, such as Qantas’ A380s, have ceased operating for the foreseeable future.
COVID-19 tests are mandatory for all Etihad and Emirates travelers prior to their flights, and could be the key to further unlocking international air travel.
Earlier this month, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said rapid pre-flight tests that can yield results within 15 minutes may be the key to resuming overseas travel sooner than the vaccine arrives.
Mr. Joyce said the tests could determine “whether you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, which means if it passes, there’s no need to stay in quarantine at the other end.”
He said, “Then you can see the (travel) bubbles opening up one after the other.”