Every airline in the world has had to shake up its cleaning and sanitation procedures as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. While this comes at a cost to the airline, and in the long run, may be reflected in the price of tickets, it’s a good move to make passengers feel safer on board. But will these measures stay long term? Let’s take a look.
Some things will stay with us
As airlines begin to resume services and look to rebuild their networks, the way people are physically accommodated on aircraft has come under much scrutiny. COVID has forced airlines to look in-depth at their cleanliness and operations, but will these improvements stay with us long term?
Joanna Geraghty, President and COO of JetBlue, in an interview for World Aviation Festival, commented on the things that she believes will stay with aviation long term. She said,
“If you look at what happened during 911 and how security and the United States Transportation Security measures came about, there are certain things that will stay with us even after the coronavirus. I think aircraft cleanliness and clean air – those are some of the things that customers will say, you know, this actually matters. Health matters, health in restaurants, health when you go to the grocery store… all these things matter and there is a far greater focus from all generations on that.”
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Undoubtedly, passengers will welcome the persistence of deep cleaning longer term. It’s probably something that should have had more attention paid to it anyway. While there will likely be a knock-on effect for airlines in terms of turnaround time and cost of operations, it’s a worthwhile investment if passengers are to be kept safe.
Getting people back in the plane
Joanna believes that there is a lot to be said for traveling by plane. It’s rapidly becoming accepted that air travel is one of the safer modes of public transport, thanks to the advanced HEPA filtration of the air onboard. She said,
“If you think about the HEPA filters, 97% of the air on board the aircraft is recirculated every three minutes, and the HEPA filters filter out all sorts of viruses, including the coronavirus. I think understanding that and sharing that with customers has been an important feature of us as one of the industry and of aircraft manufacturers.”
Anyone with an interest in aviation will probably know more about HEPA filters today than they ever have before. And that, says Geraghty, is the key to getting passengers back on the plane.
“I think greater knowledge about what a carrier is doing in terms of their cleaning protocol, and greater knowledge about the service touchpoints, greater knowledge about wearing facial coverings; I think those are the things that are going to last.”
Whether we’ll see the facial coverings lasting longer term remains to be seen, but certainly, airlines’ communications have been put to the test. Every airline is resuming flying with better cleaning, better protection and better operations in place. What will set them apart will be how well they communicate this to their passengers.
What about changing cabin layouts?
We’ve seen a lot of talk about new cabins and layouts to tackle the spread of COVID and other viruses on board. From orienting some passengers to be rear-facing to blocking the middle seat, there’s been plenty of attention on whether staying packed in on flights is sustainable in the post-COVID era.
JetBlue itself has promised to block the middle seat through to July, but will this and measures like privacy screens become widely adopted around the industry? Geraghty thinks not. She said,
“I don’t believe carriers are fundamentally going to reconfigure their aircraft to address the coronavirus. My hope is that, when there is a vaccine or a therapeutic treatment or both, that we’ll largely go back to a pre-COVID era. But I do think, as I’ve mentioned, cleanliness on an aircraft is going to be with us to stay.”
We have to agree with her take on this situation. Any changes to the basic layout of cabins comes with a huge amount of expense for airlines, not to mention the potential loss of yield if the seating capacity is reduced. While we might well see some innovation in passenger seating, it’s unlikely the way we fly will be fundamentally changed long term.
What do you think about flying in the post-COVID era? Are more things going to be with us to stay? Let us know in the comments.