What the road back to resuming air travel will look like


One of the biggest differences between now and a few months ago is that scheduled flights have almost ceased, from over 8 trillion kilometres travelled in 2019 (an average of over 1000 km per man, woman and child on the planet).

Recently I wrote 9 insights into the future of air travel in a post-coronavirus world, summarizing my thoughts on the potential pathways to the resumption of international travel.

A nice article last week in Business Insider on what air travel may look like after the pandemic drew on interviews with “a variety of travel experts, travel agents, and one futurist”, to include my thoughts.

Below are my comments that were featured in the article:

Our wanderlust is an intrinsic part of us and can’t be held back indefinitely.

“Humans need to travel. That is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human,” said Ross Dawson, author and futurist. While he believes the road to “normal” will be a bumpy one, filled with setbacks, he has no doubt we will get there.

It is certainly a safe prediction that not all airlines will survive, given their almost complete lack of revenue and irreducible overheads including cost of capital

Dawson is certain that we’ll see further consolidation in the airline industry. And in a recent Business Insider article, David Slotnick cited an aviation consultancy that suggested this will be the case, writing that “many of the world’s airlines could be bankrupt by May because of the COVID-19 crisis.”

As noted by some of the experts interviewed, domestic travel will reopen first as restrictions on international travel will remain in place for far longer. However we will see very different behaviors.

Dawson thinks it depends on the person.

“We are emotionally scarred, and there’s some people that are gung ho and happy to launch out as soon as they can, and others who will be more cautious and wait not be the first [on planes],” said Dawson.

Just as many companies are realising that allowing staff to sometimes work from home has distinct advantages, they are also discovering that collaboration tools can be substitutes for expensive and time-consuming travel.

Most people we spoke to said that being forced to use video conferencing tools could lead individuals and companies to second-guess business travel, and the necessity of certain trips that they may have previously taken for granted.

“I think that there’s potential that we will see more decisions for a long time being taken that we can use digital connection as substitutes for travel,” Dawson said.

Some of the experts suggested that cleaning of airplanes and facilities will be taken to the next level.

Dawson agrees, saying “people will pay more attention to cleanliness records.” He even predicts the rise of a new kind of plane class, which he somewhat jokingly refers to as an “isolation class.”

Claiming that humans will now be “highly sensitized to the risk of a pandemic,” he foresees airlines having to step up their precautions, whether that’s testing the health of every single person at boarding, providing face masks and sanitizer, or offering various degrees of distance between people, be that with curtains or little rooms as we have seen in some airlines’ first class cabins.

While our propensity to travel as global wealth increased seemed insatiable, that has clearly turned around for the foreseeable future.

Dawson predicts that people will be making different choices when it comes to travel, weighing whether a trip is “sufficiently compelling, in terms of family connection, in terms of just is this a place I just must be, is this is a meeting I have to go to, whatever it is.”

“It is a higher threshold as to whether people will choose to make the trip, than there has been in the past,” he said, anticipating that jetting off for a quick and exotic weekend will become less likely.

The article concluded with a quote from me, always the irrepressible optimist!

“It’ll be very challenging times, but we’ll be coming back to a better future, you know, a brighter future on the other side,” Dawson predicted.