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The Future Of Travel – Airline Travel Trends

view from an airplane

Speculation about who, how, when and what the future of travel will look like fills my inbox every day.  Newsletters from every corner of the travel industry include surveys, articles and industry experts imagining what will happen next. It is often hard to keep up and process all that information and yet since we are part of this industry, I have tried my best to read articles and find the sources that have substance while skim the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic projections that are just meant to be click bait. As the world adapts to the first global pandemic during the era of modern travel, now seems to be a good time to dig into the news and trends. Here is a brief summary of what is being talked about when it comes to air travel and flying.

Airlines, Airports and Testing

Probably one of the hardest hit industries in the world, airline travel almost came to a standstill for a few months at the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, how it returns will be an important marker for how travel will start up again, especially international travel. Two specific topics seem to be top of mind when reading about flying.

Is it safe to travel on an airplane?

Considering enclosed quarters are not considered safe, flying might be safer than you think – according to this MIT Medical article and a study by IATA.  Reasons an airplane is considered relatively safe include:

  • Ventilation in an airplane is very well managed between the air filters and the way air circulates and is refreshed every 2 – 4 minutes.
  • Cleaning protocols and mask mandates make it even harder for droplets to disperse from one passenger to the next.
  • Although social distancing is hard, keeping the middle seat free like some airlines are doing can make a difference.
  • Research and tracking of passengers from January to July have shown very very low numbers of cases attributed to contagion while flying across billions of people flying.

In fact, it is probably the airport and the transportation within an airport that is riskier than the actual time in the airplane.  On this topic, Skytrax has started an airport COVID Safety rating system (that is not based on self-certification but includes inspection) that tracks how well airports are doing in terms of sanitation and other guidelines. Rome Fiumicino is the first (and so far only) airport to receive a 5 star rating from them.

Of course taking appropriate measures is important to managing the risks that are inherent to preventing the spread of this disease which means wearing a mask, keeping a distance from others and washing your hands.

In the US, different airlines seem to be better at managing and enforcing sanitation rules and regulations – so picking an airline that is getting good reviews might make one feel more comfortable. For a good rundown of what each airline policy actually is, check out this article from Frommers.

Airlines and airports facilitate testing to minimize quarantine requirements. 

The main problem with so many people flying is not the danger while one flies, it is that as people move around their COVID-19 status is generally unknown and some people could be carrying it to places that currently don’t have outbreaks.  So, as more people start to move around in fact case numbers are rising. This is happening across many countries that loosened up their borders in the past few months.

To mitigate the spread, countries, states and regions are approaching this in different ways. Some places are imposing quarantine requirements on people coming from regions with higher COVID numbers, while others are imposing blanket restrictions or quarantine policies for anyone entering their destinations. Many of these quarantine requirements are waived if you have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of flying. And, more recently some places are requiring a COVID test, no matter what, before you can land in a country. Therefore, airlines and airports have found that facilitating testing could be the best path to re-opening.

One of the main problems with the testing now is that the primary testing method used, a PCR test, takes a few days before results are known. Therefore, managing the timing and access to the test can be complicated and difficult as people plan their flights. What seems to be an interesting solution to this problem is the rapid antigen test. Lufthansa announced in September that they will start to offer rapid antigen tests to passengers in October. These tests can provide results in 15 minutes. In addition to rapid testing, managing testing information is also top of mind at airports and airlines – so creating an easy way to share COVID-19 status seems to also be important piece of this complicated puzzle.

For a fascinating story about a company pivoting during this pandemic, XpresSpa’s case study is fascinating as it positions itself from providing spa services at airports worldwide to opening up testing sites and eventually vaccine sites across the globe with its new brand XpresCheck.

We’ll be interested to see how these trends develop in the next few months, but we are encouraged to see that safety and testing are top priorities for airlines and airports as we all think about how to get back on the road.