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From advanced aircraft to new cabin classes, could flying be more fun after Covid?

Amidst the pandemic doom and gloom, airlines have been making big changes, says Sarah Marshall


Flying high. Stock photo

Flying high. Stock photo

Flying high. Stock photo

There’s no doubt it’s been the toughest time on record for the aviation industry, with passenger numbers plummeting, flight schedules heavily reduced and planes left idle on runways.

According to data analysts Cirium, 21 years of global growth has been wiped out in 12 months, with passenger flights down 67pc in 2020.

Despite the bleak picture painted by these facts, most major airlines are soldiering on and looking forward to brighter times.

Using the pandemic pause to take stock and make improvements, many of the industry’s highest flyers have enhanced aircraft and reshaped protocols to offer customers a safer, greener and comfier time in the sky.

Given the rapidly changing situation, it’s hard to know what the travel landscape might look like in six months’ time, but amidst the despondency, there are certainly some positive changes being made.

These are just a few…

Aircrafts will be more advanced

“From the ashes of much of aviation, green shoots will grow, as we see a survival of the fittest,” says Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and former Virgin Atlantic comms director.

“There will be consolidation as some airlines disappear, or are bought by larger players who have the cash. It will be out with the old and in with the new, as loved aircraft like the 747 and A380 are retired from airline fleets, and replaced by the more sustainable and cleaner A321LR and 737 Max aircraft.”

Hugh Aitken, flights vice president at Skyscanner, agrees there will be big changes to the carriers we use.

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“Airlines with large fleets are reducing or retiring older aircraft, so expect to see disrupters enter the market and new routes emerge with more direct and long-haul services in place of transit between countries.”

Comfort will be a premium concern

“Whether it’s fully touchless boarding or app only in-flight food and drink services – the traveller experience, from check-in to departure, will continue to be digitalised,” says Aitken. “New cabin classes are already emerging, like Emirates’ premium economy, as airlines look to lower barriers to premium travel, to encourage frequent flyers back.”

Flying will become more environmentally friendly

“As investment in more sustainable aircraft and aviation fuel continues, we’ll see renewed commitments and innovations from airlines looking to differentiate themselves and become leaders in this space,” promises Aitken.

“Skyscanner’s own innovation, Greener Choice search filter, highlights flights that emit less CO2 than average. This feature has already been chosen by over 10 million travellers in their travel searches, as consumer awareness and demand to understand their own travel footprint increases.”

Customer care will improve

Air miles have always been notoriously tricky to accrue and spend, but all that is set to change as airlines seek to regain people’s business – and trust.

Recently, British Airways announced a partnership with Nectar, giving customers an opportunity to convert points accumulated on supermarket shopping into Avios for future trips or spends with other Nectar partners.

“This is an extremely positive change for Avios collectors,” says Rob Burgess, editor of the UK’s biggest frequent flyer website, headforpoints.com. “Given the lack of opportunity to fly right now, those sitting on large pots of Avios now find they have an abundance of uses for their points. This will be particularly attractive to anyone who is Avios rich but currently cash poor.”

The private jet market will grow

“As we begin 2021, the factors that led to a demand increase for private aviation last year are continuing: travellers are looking to avoid shared or crowded spaces, and to fill the gaps left by commercial airline disruption,” says Adam Twidell, CEO of private jet provider PrivateFly.

“We believe our industry will continue to appeal for these reasons, while evolving its offering for the longer term in a number of ways.”

Although traditionally favoured by the rich and famous, Twidell insists there are options to accommodate a growing middle market.

“On-demand private charter is perfect for those flying occasionally, but for five or more flights a year, options such as jet cards, funds on account or fractional ownership start to become very attractive.”

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