We all know enough to expect fewer, longer routes, social distancing, unpleasantness, and inconvenience. But the details are worth a peek. The lives we live are in the details.
First, the airlines have been through some truly awful times, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA):
Nearly two-thirds of the world’s 26,000 passenger aircraft are grounded, and some 25 million jobs are at risk. IATA has warned that carriers face a $314 billion shortfall in ticket sales this year, and half of them face bankruptcy in two to three months without government help.Angus Whitley, “How Coronavirus Will Forever Change Airlines and the Way We Fly” at Bloomberg (April 24, 2020)
Current traffic is about 5% of last year’s. Because the airlines will be smaller and the public will be poorer, industry analysts caution us not to expect any quick return to normal:
It could take two to five years before passenger numbers return to the go-go levels of 2019, says Helane Becker, an analyst with the investment bank Cowen, and U.S. airlines are downsizing accordingly—she expects them to end the year 20% to 30% smaller than at the start. Safety worries will be compounded by a deep, sudden recession that is putting millions out of work and deeper into debt. “If you’re lucky enough to have a landlord who lets you defer rent, you have to pay that back and your credit card bills before you can think about going to Disney World,” she says.Jeremy Bogaisky, “How Coronavirus Will Change Air Travel” at Forbes
Bracing for some unpleasant changes, we should realize that much airline economics wasn’t very sound to begin with: Before the virus struck, all-inclusive airfares averaged $3 per customer profit in Asia, $5 in Europe, and $17 in the United States, according to IATA (Angus Whitley, Bloomberg). Business travel subsidized leisure travel:
Apple pays millions of dollars a year just to buy seats on the San Francisco/Shanghai route. Fast Company confirms that Apple buys 50 business class seats on that route every single day, paying United $150 million annually.Sophie-Claire Hoeller, “What the future of air travel might look like after the coronavirus pandemic” at MSN (April 7, 2020)
If businesses Zoom more hereafter, the rest of us may fly much less frequently and more expensively. And here are ten ways it will be less fun:
1.The question, should we go at all? becomes a more serious one. Fed up with cancellations and panics, many former flyers plan to vacation locally. Omer Rabin, managing director, Americas, for booking software firm Guesty, offers,
“People say ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen with flights, but we do know that we’re going to be able to get in the car and drive for three hours and have our own place and stay there for two weeks.’”Kenneth Kiesnoski, “Travel changed after 9/11; Here’s how it will look after the Covid-19 pandemic finally recedes” at CNBC (May 10, 2020)
If things goes wrong anyway, it’s usually easier to get home again without a fuss if you haven’t left your region, let alone your country.
2.So you decided to fly anyway: Your choices will likely be more limited and less convenient:
We’ll have fewer options and some routes that were once nonstop will now require connections, perhaps by a circuitous route. Layovers in hubs could be longer. Even on popular routes, early morning and late evening flights that existed before the pandemic are unlikely to come back for years, and midday flights that aren’t as popular with business travelers could be trimmed back.Jeremy Bogaisky, “How Coronavirus Will Change Air Travel” at Forbes
3.You’ve booked your tickets? No more easy breezy for you! The airlines hope to make you do more before you go to the airport in order to minimize the time you spend there: They’re asking governments worldwide to enable electronic registration of visas and travel documents so you can do more of it at home:
But even simpler tasks will change. It goes so far as to suggest people will begin printing tags for checked bags themselves, rather than doing so at check-in.Mark Wilson, “7 ways flying could change in the age of COVID-19 (and 1 way it definitely won’t)” at Fast Company (May 5, 2020)
4.When you get to the airport, you may encounter off-putting and invasive procedures for checking your health:
Just as airport security tightened after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., travelers could be subject to tests like temperature checks, or they may even need health certificates to fly, according to consulting firm BCG. That could be time-consuming and complicate flying schedules.Angus Whitley, “How Coronavirus Will Forever Change Airlines and the Way We Fly” at Bloomberg (April 24, 2020)
5.Expect longer waits, maybe four hours, even if authorities would like you to spend less time at airports. Your bags may need to be disinfected and “sanitagged,” “Touchless” systems will be the new standard to aim for:
They say “seatback pockets will be left empty and there will be touchless kiosks (scan via a code, or even through voice commands) in airport terminals.” Abu Dhabi is reportedly now trialling touchless check-in kiosks that can even scan passengers for basic health and direct them to further screening if for example, they appear to have a fever.Gabriel Leigh, “Flying Sanitized: How Air Travel May Change Forever After Coronavirus” at Forbes May 6, 2020
The more procedures, the more possible delays. It all adds up to more time spent at the airport.
6.To minimize sanitation risk, you’ll be allowed even less carry-on luggage:
The IATA suggests that airports and governments will need to redesign gates simply to allow people to get onto the plane. One thing that looks more certain, though, is that carry-on bags will be limited to expedite and smooth out the boarding process. In other words, you’re going to have to check more bags than you’re used to. Will airlines offer free checked bags again?Mark Wilson, “7 ways flying could change in the age of COVID-19 (and 1 way it definitely won’t)” at Fast Company (May 5, 2020)
Maybe not. Airlines, strapped for cash, may take the view that you either pay them or the Post Office to ship your belongings: Nobody ships free.
7.Boarding procedures may change and the plane will look barer inside:
Already, some carriers have implemented back-to-front boarding to minimize contacts between passengers. They’re also blocking center seats to maintain some distance, and adjusting food services, said Katherine Estep, communications director for Airlines for America, the industry trade group.Eric Anderson, “How air travel will change after COVID-19” at Apple News (April 25, 2020)
8.You will probably be expected to wear a mask, a travel editor warns:
Your flight attendant might be wearing a face mask and you soon will be too, either by mandate or preference.
United, American, Frontier and JetBlue will require flight attendants to wear masks. Now, many airlines are requiring passengers to use face coverings, a trend that likely will continue.Catharine Hamm, “After coronavirus: Your next flight may look like this” at Los Angeles Times (April 29, 2020)
9.On board, the plane will be cleaner but also leaner. Snack before you go:
Cleaner cabins, reduced food service and more distant flight attendants: Airlines are stepping up cleaning procedures to reduce risks of virus transmission. In China, regulators have ordered that restrooms be cleaned in-flight after being used by ten passengers, or every two hours. They’re reducing food and beverage service—Delta is only handing out bottled water and packaged foods. For safety and economic reasons, it may be years before options expand again.Jeremy Bogaisky, “How Coronavirus Will Change Air Travel” at Forbes
10.As airlines struggle to stay in the air, don’t expect to hear much about lavish new planes or destinations: Aviation expert Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group told Travel and Leisure. “Airlines will focus on essentials. They will do anything that contributes to generating revenue or is a competitive necessity, but they will hold off on retrofitting their fleets with new seats if they have not already ordered them, opening new lounges, or refurbishing existing ones.” President and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Chip Rogers, had pretty much the same message from the hotel industry:
If all goes well, the AHLA projects the U.S. hotel industry will be back at 70 to 80 percent of what it was before coronavirus by this time next year. However, Roger says, “There will be fewer hotels in operation, and many fewer hotels in development.” Travelers might also see hotels opening only a fraction of the rooms they have and looking for technological solutions to replace staff and save on cash.”Eric Rosen, “Will Travel Change After Coronavirus? Here’s What Experts Have to Say” at Travel & Leisure (April 18, 2020)
In short, air travel will still be available but much leaner, with most innovations focused on efforts to stay clean, stay in business, save money, and make up for recent losses.
And after you land, you may not be able to economize much on accommodation unless you stay with a friend. That’s because Air BnB, one of the darlings of recent small business startups, may take a bigger hit than the hotel industry. Cornell business prof Christopher Anderson thinks travelers will opt for assured cleanliness:
Anderson says one “saving grace” for hotels may be traveler discomfort with alternative lodging options such as Airbnb and other vacation rental sites because those properties may struggle to communicate and standardize rigorous cleaning standards.
“I’m going to want the safety and security of established cleaning protocols that I get from an established lodging provider,” Anderson said, so he anticipates a negative impact in the short term for Airbnb-type rentals.Marnie Hunter, “What will travel look like after coronavirus?” at CNN (March 30, 2020)
These are the views of mere pundits, not of infallible wizards, of course. But when deciding whether or where to travel and how much to spend, it makes sense to know what the industry watchers are expecting.
More predictions for the post-Covid-19 world:
Five surprising changes to watch for from COVID-19 Expect to hear much more about robots that can stand in for humans, as a way of enabling social distance
Top consumer trends COVID-19 will change long term: Data from 40 countries suggests that, post-COVID, people will continue to stick close to home.
Five ways COVID-19 is changing education for good: Parents, students, and teachers worldwide have been finding ways to use the internet in creative ways they would never have considered before. Recently, a Harvard prof chose to launch an attack on homeschoolers, portraying them as driven by narrow religious concerns. Given how many parents COVID-19 has forced to homeschool, the attack was, at best, poorly timed. But it usefully focused attention on the ways education needs to change in an online world.
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