Covid-19 has turned the travel industry upside down. Some airlines have collapsed and those that have managed to survive have been running a very limited flight schedule since the initial travel bans that reduced flights to a bare minimum. Non-essential travel has been banned by many countries around the world, significantly reducing the flights that have been made in 2020
As well as facing the problems presented by the authorities in countries to restrict entry of travellers from high risk infection countries, the travel industry has also had to handle the requirement for being able to provide a safer environment on airplanes. This includes everything from a higher level of cleaning, to asking passengers to wear masks while travelling.
As the various health authorities around the world and WHO continue to investigate the transmission details of Covid-19 and the measures that can be used to prevent transmission, new systems are being implemented at airports and on planes. Due to more information and technology becoming available, changes are happening at a fast pace, but the air travel industry is adapting and finding ways to continue operating as safely as possible.
The passenger experience has changed significantly. From the freedom to choose a destination of choice, travellers must now consider travel bans, quarantine requirements and the level of risk of infection at their chosen destination. It is not the dream holiday or the relaxing business travel experience that it was not so long ago. Would-be holidaymakers have had to cancel trips at the last minute, to avoid needing to self-isolate on their return.
What experience can passengers expect now?
Any aspect of the experience that can be completed with no or minimal contact will be, in line with Covid-19 secure measures. So, onboard catering and refreshments trolleys are not going to be the priority, the services that passengers have become so accustomed to may no longer be available for a while at least. Instead, being able to offer the highest hygiene standards will differentiate the budget airlines from the premium ones.
Travellers will be prepared to pay more money to be guaranteed safer traveling conditions, such as excellent cleanliness practices and more cabin space. There are rumours that some airlines are looking at removing some rows of seating, so that they can provide travellers with larger space when they are flying.
How has the airport experience changed?
Different countries and airports have had different approaches to handle the security challenges posed by the pandemic. In the US, all but 15 airports were closed down, with the 15 selected airports conducting enhanced screening of travellers to help prevent people with the infection from bringing it into the US. The US also set out a travel ban for countries that they deemed to be high risk, to stop travellers from those countries entering the US.
Now airlines around the world are looking at various options to try and make the industry safer to help ensure that they can continue to operate. In the UK, Heathrow airport has started using rapid Covid-19 tests which take an hour to get the results.
So, travellers can take the test before they check-in and then the results are available before they board the plane. At this point, the test has been trialled on passengers traveling from London to Hong Kong, with the tests costing £80 per person. This could pave the way for this to become a mandatory testing requirement before travellers are permitted to get on planes.
Many of the countries that rely on tourism tried to control travellers bringing the infection into the country by requiring tests at the airport when the travellers land at their airport. They are then asked to self-isolate for 24 hours, with anyone with positive test results then being told to continue self-isolating. Other countries have requested a negative test to be presented before allowing travellers to enter the country.
Technology is at the focal point of everything related to Covid-19, from finding and testing an effective vaccine, to helping to monitor high infection rates. Tech has also been a very important enabler for businesses to operate in safer ways, for example, ecommerce has been booming since the pandemic and many businesses have adapted to offer more online services.
Hygiene practices have been able to improve due to advanced technology too, with touchless toilet flushing, touchless hand washing and many other new ways of doing daily routines with a lower level of risk of spreading infection.
Contactless and touchless technology is likely to become increasingly popular, as companies look for ways to do everyday tasks in a more hygienic way. Contactless payments have become the preferred payment method during the pandemic where possible, removing the possibility of infection from exchanging coins and notes.
We have also seen an increase in the use of apps for activities such as ordering food and drinks in restaurants and bars, to prevent customers needing to get up and walk around venues, which would increase the chance of coming into contact with others.
Having been forced to prioritise contactless technology as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are becoming more aware of the tech solutions that were already available for them to use. The scanning of QR codes provides a fast and contactless way to do a range of actions, from scanning a flight ticket or a train ticket at the gates, to checking into a venue as part of the NHS contract tracing app.
Anyone with a smartphone can use a QR code and some newer smartphones can read a QR code through their phone’s camera. This saves a lot of time for businesses and customers, who can avoid the time-consuming actions of signing into a website or taking manual details by writing them down on paper.
Collating customer feedback in a contactless channel
OMBEA is a leader in providing contactless technology and they have introduced a QR code that is placed on the floor as a social distancing sticker, which is able to collate feedback from customers. So, while people are queueing at the airport, or any other type of location, they have a large visible prompt to leave feedback about their experience. These social distancing stickers can be used by any industry and if they need to set out social distancing markers anyway, it is a great dual-purpose tool that is ideal for use in the current pandemic for security measures as well as helping businesses to collate feedback.
This type of approach is vital in monitoring how passengers are feeling about the experience of travelling after so many changes have been introduced to their usual experience. By installing the QR codes at the airports, airlines are able to monitor whether there are any specific issues that are causing problems for passengers.
This is even more important right now as the usual staff contact points will be reduced, such as flight attendants spending less time walking down aisles and not being able to talk to passengers in the way that they could before the pandemic.
Staff at the airports will also be required to work with social distance measures in place, so if customers have issues that they would normally mention to a member of the airline staff, there will be much fewer ways to do this verbally. Using a QR code to link to a feedback questionnaire will allow passengers to rate their experience and there is also the possibility to add different questions to the survey, to target specific areas of the passenger experience.
OMBEA also offers another really effective method to collate passenger experience feedback, in the format of a feedback terminal that can be positioned at the most appropriate place to collect passengers’ feedback as they walk past it. The terminals are touchless, which means they are designed with hygiene in mind, while still being able to collate crucial information from passengers in a fast and easy format.
That feedback can then be easily viewed by the management team to assess whether any service improvements are required. The feedback stats are available in real-time, which allows the customer experience team to keep a constant check on how the passenger experience is and any issues should quickly get highlighted, so they can resolve them before they turn into complaints.
How the next year could look for air travel
How the next year looks for the travel industry largely depends on whether a Covid-19 vaccine is made available and how soon it will be available. Currently, the travel industry is going through an incredibly difficult period, with the usual high numbers of summer holidays not taking place this year. There is some good news for the travel industry though, as new research is emerging that suggests a lower than thought risk of coronavirus infection on planes.
According to Statista the estimated revenue loss of airlines worldwide due to Covid-19 in 2020 is $314bn. Social distancing measures are helping to limit the spread of the infection but a vaccine is required before travel, or life in general is able to return to what we know as normal.
Even when these steps are taken to get closer to the ‘normal’ that people are used to, the way we do things is likely to have changed significantly. An increased awareness of the importance of hygiene, the increased use of contactless technology and many other trends throughout 2020 will become a way of life, rather than an interim measure.
With even the less tech savvy people now being forced to embrace the capability of apps and other tech solutions, they can see how everything from air travel to ordering food and drinks can be done faster and easier than queuing in a physical line.
Hopefully, 2021 will be a successful year for the travel industry, and people are able to enjoy flying to destinations around the world without worrying about infections or requiring a Covid-19 test before they are able to fly.