May 8, 2020
'Opportunity for innovation': What the future of air travel may look like
Airlines critical to Canadian economy, but crown corporation a 'dumb' idea: Karl Moore
The spread of COVID-19 has crippled the global airline industry, as government-implemented travel restrictions are showing no signs of letting up. For those still taking domestic flights, the on-board experience is a lot different than it was pre-pandemic, but what will it look like when the world recovers and borders open back up?
Temperature checks, mandatory face masks and physical distancing are being introduced on a temporary basis at Air Canada, but some think increased sanitary measures will be the new norm.
“Just as 9/11 caused massive changes in the screening of our customers, I think COVID-19 will also lead to lasting changes as to how a customer is screened in an airport,” said Samuel Elfassy, VP of safety at Air Canada, in a telephone interview with BNN Bloomberg. “At one point we were looking for the physical safety of our customers, now we’re looking for the bio-safety of our customers.”
Canada’s largest air carrier unveiled a new initiative called Cleancare+ on Monday, along with its latest financial results. The program includes new cleaning protocols for aircraft, but most noticeable to passengers will be mandatory temperature checks before flights, as well as a guarantee that it will not sell the seat beside you.
Specifics like where a temperature check would take place are still being finalized, but Air Canada says the policy will start May 15, and remain in place until at least June 30.
WestJet has also introduced seat distancing and changes to inflight services, and according to a statement on the company’s website, decisions on next steps will always be made with the health, safety and mental well-being of guests and staff.
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Karl Moore, professor of business strategy at McGill University and an expert in the airline industry, thinks a return to normal will depend on the development of a vaccine.
“I think they’ll be in place for a couple years,” Moore said by phone of increased sanitary measures. “Being on a plane for 12 hours going to Asia with someone in the middle seat beside you would make most consumers nervous, and I think it will for a while.”
It’s not just air carriers that are under pressure, plane manufacturers like Airbus SE and Boeing Co. have also seen business slow down significantly, but Moore figures they are busy innovating to come up with ways to make passengers feel safe again. That could include new cabin layouts, or even new technologies for disinfecting, as well as detecting illness.
“This creates incredible opportunity for innovation,” Elfassy said when asked if Air Canada is considering any new cabin layouts or on-board features.
“The post-pandemic world will include screening technologies that detect vital signs and provide a better understanding of what an individual’s health looks like, and whether or not that person should be flying.”
Air Canada did not confirm any permanent changes to its fleet, but did indicate it is working with third parties to develop new onboard technology that would help prevent the spread of the virus.
Aside from increased screening and the promotion of physical distancing, Moore thinks the big change for the aviation industry post-pandemic will be consolidation.
“I think the next few years are going to be really tough,” said Moore, who figures if flights are back up to 90-per-cent capacity in two years, carriers would be elated.
“There are going to be some airlines that go bankrupt, and they’re going to need lots of government support to stick around,” Moore added, noting he doesn’t expect any of Canada’s airlines to shutter. “I think we will see some big names fold in the U.S. and Europe.”