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Ten Post-Pandemic Trends for Air Travel

by Emma Drew
Published: Last Update at

Since the start of the pandemic, airlines have had to respond and adapt very quickly to how we travel during the Covid-19 outbreak. Stringent measures have been implemented both at airports and onboard planes to limit the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of passengers and crew at all times.  Airlines remain confident that travel will return again but anticipate it will take some time to restore passenger confidence in air travel, as many people may still be wary about travelling in confined spaces. This has given airlines the chance to look towards the future and create a new vision for air travel. A greater focus will be on the use of new technological innovations to offer passengers an experience that is safe, efficient and seamless. 

Outlined below are ten trends that will change the way we travel.

1. Food pre-ordering service  

One of the most notable changes to the in-flight experience since the start of the outbreak has been that some airlines have made the decision to suspend their traditional onboard food and drinks service. Not only is this to reduce contact between passengers and crew members but it is also expected to minimise food waste of the meals brought onboard.  Some airlines, including Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Transavia, have been trialing a new initiative using food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway.com. Passengers have the option to pre-order their food before their flight using their mobile phone and all payments are made upfront. Meals are then freshly prepared and directly delivered onboard. Crew members then only have to interact with the few passengers who have ordered a meal from the service. This gives passengers more choice and flexibility to choose what food they want to eat onboard. Another advantage to this scheme is that it will also reduce the volume of people queuing for food in the airport terminals restaurants and eateries. 

Meal served on board of airplane

Meals can be ordered in advance.

Etihad Airways has developed a similar initiative through the partnership with startup Lumitics to help improve meal planning for inflight food preparation through the use of robotics. This will enable airlines to monitor the amount of unconsumed meals from a plane in a bid to reduce food wastage on flights and reduce operating costs.

Marcel de Nooijer, CEO of Transavia, said: “It is important to keep innovating and further improving service for our customers, especially in these unprecedented times. We’re starting modestly by offering this meal service on four flights. However, we have confidence in this great concept and hope to expand it further as opportunities allow.”

2. Personal tablets for air crew 

Taking a step towards digitisation, Condor Airlines has introduced SkyTab tablets for members of its cabin crew to optimise onboard sales and communication to make the onboard experience more personal for its passengers.  SkyTabs include an inflight sales software, to provide live tracking of sales on each flight and display product availability. This will be a vital asset to the airline retail sector following the temporary removal of the traditional Inflight magazine, used to promote luxury products to passengers.  It also enables guests to easily make cashless inflight payments from a variety of credit and giro cards, as well as Apple and Google Pay. Another reason for the initiative is part of the airlines efforts to reduce the amount of paper and folders carried on board which adds extra weight to the plane, requiring more fuel. All flight related documents can therefore easily be accessed from the SkyTabs.     

Image of a flight attendant standing in front of an aircraft and using a digital tablet.

Flight attendant using a digital tablet.

Stefan Patermann, CEO, Retail inMotion, commented: “We are delighted to partner with Condor. With the launch of the Retail inMotion digital platform, Condor passengers and crew will benefit from a fully integrated end-to-end solution, which provides not only a best-in-class retail solution, but also an integrated platform across the entire process from supply chain to on-board sales.”

“Through this collaboration, Condor, one of the leading European airlines, will be able to provide passengers with the most relevant products and will allow them to pay via contactless technology and access their receipts electronically after the flight,” added Jan Blanchard, Chief Commercial Officer, Retail inMotion.

3. Ultraviolet cabin cleaning

UV light revealing the germs on hands and surfaces

UV light revealing the germs on hands and surfaces.

The pandemic has placed health, safety and cabin sanitisation at the forefront of the entire customer experience. One of the latest and most innovative solutions for cabin cleaning is through the use of an ultraviolet (UV) system, developed by Honeywell, that claims to disinfect an entire mid-sized airline cabin in less than 10 minutes using UVC light arms that extend over the top of seats and sweep the cabin to treat aircraft surfaces without using cleaning chemicals. Clinical tests show that UV light is capable of inactivating various viruses and bacteria. This would be essential, given tight turnaround time between flights. The concept has already been adopted by Qatar Airways and is currently being trialled by JetBlue Airways.

4. Contactless in-flight entertainment 

Some airlines have been reconsidering how to improve the delivery of passenger inflight entertainment. Now more than ever, contactless technology remains a high priority as part of the onboard experience in order to minimise the spread of viruses from cross contaminated surfaces and reduce the interaction between passengers and crew members. Many airlines have removed the entertainment screens from the backs of seats to reduce passenger touchpoints.

Image of woman using a tablet

Contactless technology remains a high priority as part of the onboard experience

However, Qatar Airways has been one of the airlines to offer zero touch inflight entertainment in partnership with the Thales AVANT IFE system.

Passengers will be encouraged to bring their own device onboard to stream inflight content directly to their smartphone, laptop or tablet, using the carrier’s IFEC portal without having to download an app before they board. 

Babar Rahman, vice president of IFE for Qatar Airways, said “People are becoming germophobic, they would like a touch-less experience and use devices they own themselves. As that concern grows, they would like to control their screen more through their own devices. No matter how many times you market to them this has been sanitized through UV lights, through chemicals, there will still be a desire to not want to touch something that was touched by many other people.” 

By implementing wireless IFEC systems onboard it will give passengers more choice and control to enjoy the same level of entertainment they have come to expect.

5. Contactless shopping 

The pandemic has altered the way people shop and buy items in airport terminals with many airport retailers looking into innovative ways to adapt by launching new digitised retail experiences offered within Duty Free.

Close-up of a woman using their smart phone to pay by contactless.

A woman using a smartphone to pay by contactless.

Although contactless payments are nothing new, many airlines are making improvements to the way travellers buy goods at their airports by implementing more advanced technological payment innovations such as digital wallets and “Tap to Pay” which allows consumers to use their smartphones to pay for products at the store by scanning an electronic price tag without the need to download an app. Not only does this make the consumer purchasing experience more streamlined, it also reduces queue times waiting to pay, especially while social distancing measures are still in place.  

6. Rapid COVID-19 testing for crew

Virgin Atlantic became the first UK airline to introduce COVID-19 pre-flight testing at its Heathrow base for its cabin crew and pilots, with other airlines following suit. Delta Air Lines has partnered with healthcare company CVS Health to roll out COVID-19 testing with a rapid-response option for flight crew to reduce further spread of the virus and rebuild confidence for travelling amongst passengers.

Shot of a young woman getting her temperature taken with an infrared thermometer by a healthcare worker during an outbreak

Testing body temperature during an outbreak.

The rapid-response nasal-swab test is the newest testing option for Delta employees and it takes less than 15 minutes to diagnose whether the active COVID-19 virus is detected.

Delta Executive Vice President Joanne Smith said, “Just like there’s no single method to reducing the transmission of the virus, there’s no one solution to testing our global workforce that is always on the move. That’s why we’re excited to be partnering with CVS Health and their clinicians to offer an additional convenient and reliable option to our people.”

7. Wellness Ambassadors onboard

Etihad has become the first airline to introduce specially trained Wellness Ambassadors as part of a new health and hygiene programme during the pandemic. Each Wellness Ambassador will undergo special training at the airline’s training facilities in Abu Dhabi that will enable them to provide essential health information and care to passengers both in the airport terminal and onboard.  All Wellness Ambassadors are multi-lingual and will be available 24/7 via email and web chat to offer reassurance to customers. The airline has also produced an online guide, outlining the cleanliness and hygiene measures being implemented at every stage of the customer journey. 

Flight attendant in a private airplane wearing a facemask to avoid an infectious disease

Flight attendant wears a face mask to avoid an infectious disease.

Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Providing for our guests, and their well-being, is one of Etihad’s core values, and we have a responsibility to protect them, to keep them fully informed, and to provide even greater levels of genuine warmth and personal care”. 

8. Touchless check-in procedures

One of the many ways airports have been dealing with the pandemic is through the increased use of mobile apps, specifically adapted to provide touchless personal identification at check-in, bag security checks and and temperature screening. Another innovation being discussed amongst airlines is the implementation for more improved biometric systems.

Young man waiting for check in and drop his luggage at airline check-in counter of international airport terminal

Biometric bag drop service would speed up the boarding process

One such innovation currently being trailed by airlines is SelfDrop, a biometric bag drop service that would speed up the boarding process by allowing passengers to process and tag their own luggage. Not only would this system limit queue times but it would also reduce human interaction between travellers and airport staff. 

Another innovation is SelfPass, a digital identity detector that uses facial scanning from a database and could replace the traditional passport. It requires no no need for no need for handling personal documents, therefore reducing interaction with airport staff but it would also give travellers control over how their personal data is shared and used. 

Facial recognition system at the airport during covid-19 pandemic, measuring temperature. People waiting for luggage.

Facial recognition system at an airport during Covid-19 pandemic, measuring the temperature of people waiting for luggage.

Vaccination passports could also come into force more as part of airlines health screening policies to assess whether passengers are eligible for travel. The passports would hold a record of PCR test results that indicate the presence of Covid-19 antigens for those travellers who have either had Covid-19 in the past or other medical conditions and pre-assess how to respond in the event they become ill onboard.

9. Outdoor green spaces

The future could see changes to the design of airports making use of outdoor space and making them less enclosed by moving security to the front of the terminal so that the rest of the space could be transformed into tranquil garden spaces or providing outdoor terraces which would improve the passenger airport experience whilst adhering to social distancing measures.

Outdoor green spaces at airport

Outdoor green spaces at an airport.

The Star Alliance lounge at Paris CDG made use of its unused space by transforming it into an outdoor landscaped garden space to  allow travellers to relax before their flight.     

10. Crowd control & security 

Increases in technological advancements and innovations will lead towards greater efficiency in aviation security checkpoints during Covid-19. It will enable airports to implement better crowd control systems using biometrics to allow for social distancing and contactless security checks will further reduce contamination. The use of improved technology will ensure faster screening of baggage and will be able to easily detect explosives or harmful items and reduce false alarms, speeding up the security process.  

Two young woman wearing protective face mask stand in line with social distancing due to COVID-19 outbreak

Two young women wearing protective face masks stand in line with social distancing due to COVID-19 outbreak.

Ty Osbaugh, a principal and leader in aviation practices says, “To further improve the flow of passengers through the terminal, the security screening process would need to be far less onerous, more of a walk-through experience. Perhaps a tunnel where you’re scanned as you go, like what Israel is already using.”

Osbaugh also predicts airports will introduce virtual queues to replace physical lines to alleviate crowding at the departure gates. Passengers could make use of the airport’s wider facilities such as entertainment centres and retail stores, rather than sitting in the gate area with hundreds of other passengers, and then receiving a notification 20 minutes before its time to board.

The future of travel has some way to return to what it was before the pandemic but by implementing some of these automated technologies, airlines could continue to provide passengers with a safe and enjoyable experience as we travel towards a new normal.

What other technological innovations will airlines use following the pandemic? Let us know in the comments below. 

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