The start and the end of 2020 look completely different from anyone traveling. Airlines had to adapt rapidly to COVID-19, making a range of improvements to the experience of travellers. Travel restrictions, airlines that cut routes and the number of flights, and worries about the spread of the virus inside airports and aircraft are looking very different in 2020 than they did a year earlier. But believe it or not, not all of these changes are bad. Here are some of the ways that COVID-19 has improved air travel, both for better and worse.
The global health issue has highlighted the need for the highest standard of hygiene in aircraft cabins. When the virus came to a halt, airlines immediately dropped their tight turnaround period, which saw no maintenance, and instead opted for a rigorous method of aircraft cleaning. Since COVID-19 could spread via surface contact, it is important to disinfect every touchpoint after a flight. Particular focus is placed on common areas such as lavatories and overhead bins during cleaning. If you get on a plane soon, there’s a fair chance that everything from the tray table to the window shade has been cleaned up.
Most airlines around the world are cleaning planes between flights, no matter how short the journey is. Some airlines also clean their aircraft deeply on longer routes, particularly if an infected passenger is found to have travelled. Planes are likely to be the cleanest they have ever been during this pandemic as a result of these recent reforms.
Although this may not seem to be important, the airlines had actually stopped cleaning their aircraft, or merely did the bare minimum, prior to the crisis. It was not rare to find any crumbs or traces of the last flight after a short turnaround. However, all this has changed with the latest cleaning practices of COVID-19, a positive development for the industry.
This current focus on hygiene applies not only to aircraft, but also to passengers themselves. Airlines universally require face masks to be worn on all flights, and some carriers also provide airlines with a hygiene kit (the 2020 version of the amenity kit containing necessities, such as hand sanitizers and wipers. Face shields have also appeared with a variety of airlines, including Qatar and Air India.
Bye-bye change fees!
Airlines around the world have suspended shift charges during this crisis in order to make travel more flexible. The recent drive to remove them for good may, however, change the industry as we know it. Many times, the expense of the change fee and the difference in fares is astronomical and it is very helpful to eliminate the change fee.
Change payments carry considerable ancillary revenues for airlines and give them a clearer understanding of flight loads. However, the elimination of these fees could in the future, stimulate passenger bookings, offsetting such losses. Change fees might make a comeback in the future, but for now, they appear to be on their way out.
The middle seat
No one especially likes the middle seat, and since the pandemic, blocking it has made many feels safer. Although blocking the middle seat gives passengers more room and a sense of protection, the jury is still out on how much it mitigates the risk of the virus.
Most airlines have been wary of enforcing any such strategy that leaves 33 per cent of the seats vacant on a flight. Blocking the middle seat is financially difficult and works only if demand is poor (and these seats will not be sold anyway) or if passengers are willing to pay a premium for it.
Of all the policies put in place by COVID-19, the middle-seat ones are the most likely to leave first. A number of carriers have already begun to book aircraft with the ability to optimize revenue. Although middle seats will once again fill up, the move has sparked developments in the economy to look ahead.
Although most of the changes made to COVID-19 are temporary: social distancing, canned meals, quarantine, there will be some changes to continue here. Overall, the travel experience will be different over the next few months (or even a year) as health takes its place in the front seat. However, the abolition of change charges and comprehensive cleaning are also positive measures for the future. There are better days to look forward to and a lot of service is coming back soon after this pandemic.