AIRLINES are currently facing the largest crisis since the beginning of their existence and remain unsure about how much a plane ticket will even cost in a post-Covid-19 future, their challenge is to respect social distancing albeit with a limited amount of cabin space.
Unequivocally all businesses have begun to think about their ability to adapt to the current climate due to the unprecedented consequences the coronavirus crisis has had on almost all industries. Companies must now envision what the ‘new normal’ will look like and how we will be able to live our lives within this new framework.
Until we develop the so-called herd immunity or find a drug or vaccine to make the health crisis more manageable, one of the biggest worries for the aviation industry is the fear that travellers will have when flying.
In the past 90 days, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the number of commercial flights worldwide by a staggering 73 per cent. The only event to slightly shadow this magnitude of disruption is the eruption of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano or the crisis following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
However, Javier Gandara Martinez, the president of the Association of Airlines, points out that this context is even more unique because the coronavirus crisis does not affect the tourism and aviation industry alone, but rather has disrupted the entire global economy. He contends that “it is not unreasonable to say that we are facing the worst crisis ever in the [aviation] sector.”
Few can assuredly say when they will be catching a plane again or to what destination, as almost nobody knows what it will be like to fly, or even how much it will cost, during the post-crisis period. Deducing from pure logic, the first routes which become widely available again will be internal ones, not international flights. The latter will be much harder to predict as each country imposes its own regulations.
Gandara, who is also the CEO for easyJet for Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, has also highlighted that we should not rule out the fact that some airports and countries will open before others. He also notes that travelling will no longer be a priority for some as the economic burden of the crisis will prioritise other issues such as educating or feeding your children.
Social distancing must be respected within the cabins in order to regain the confidence of customers. The transition stage is still very much being debated and various parts of the world have advanced their opinions on how the sector should adjust.
An Italian design firm, Aviointeriors, has redesigned the model of seats in cabins which proposes to reverse the entire middle row and cover the gaps between the seats so that maximum space can be utilised. Therefore, all three passengers could be isolated from each other, this ingenious idea has been well received in the industry as it means the middle seat does not have to be disposed of. However, there are drawbacks such as the issue of children travelling with parents and how this would work.
The seating is not the only challenge these planes face, as going to the toilet is typically in a small confined space and people often come into contact with each other when waiting to use the bathroom.
Similarly, there must be precautions taken in the disembarking of passengers and some ideas have included a type of sanitary checkpoint just as you would have with a luggage security checkpoint. Checks in this area could consist of taking temperatures or coronavirus tests.
Another great unknown is the issue of prices; Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said a few days ago that he expects a sharp increase in demand when the restrictions end and “a price war” brewing between airlines, with all airlines prepared to ‘win’ at all costs.
He argues that, “It does not depend on whether the model is ‘low cost’ or not, although if you have a low-cost structure, that helps. We don’t set prices. They are set by the free interaction between supply and demand and right now, there is a lot of uncertainty, nobody knows” what demand or supply will realistically look like.
If an airplane has a capacity of 180 seats, of which it usually fills 160, if they prevent you from selling the central row you may be forced to reduce the passage by a third, to 120. “That may make you think that the price is going to rise but if there is no demand at that level and you can still only sell 30 seats then you will be forced to lower the cost, cause if you don’t you won’t sell them,” explains easyJet’s Gandara.