Life After COVID-19: How Will the Pandemic Change Our Approach to Air Travel?
The far-reaching effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on almost every industry imaginable, but the travel industry has been hit particularly hard. With travel bans and shelter-in-place directives limiting folks’ ability to fly, airlines have cancelled a record number of flights. According to NPR’s On Point podcast on station WBUR, just 190,000 people, both passengers and crew members, were screened at airports across the country on May 7. Last year, May 7 saw roughly 2.5 million folks screened at airports, meaning the amount of people passing through airports in the United States has fallen a staggering 93% compared to this time last year.
Of course, these numbers are up slightly from April’s all-time low, which saw only 87,000 folks passing through the country’s airports on any given day. Needless to say, the once-booming aviation industry has been hit hard. So hard, in fact, the industry received a $25 billion bailout from Congress. At some point, restrictions will lift, and folks will feel comfortable enough to travel again, but we can’t expect things to just "go back to normal." In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that there’s no going back — there’s just going to be a new normal to adjust to, and for airports, airlines and passengers, this new normal likely means new rules.
How Has COVID-19 Already Changed Air Travel?
For those who are still traveling, airlines have already enacted fairly drastic changes, all in the name of safety and, of course, to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. For example, JetBlue, known for having a grab-and-go snack cupboard on most of its flights, has suspended beverage and snack service, while airlines like Delta have blocked off middle seats, started boarding the planes back to front and have only allowed 10 passengers to board at a given time to maintain social distancing. Speaking of social distancing, most big name airlines are capping their occupancy around 50% — not that flights would sell out right now anyway — to make more room for passengers to spread out and maintain a safe distance from one another.
What Further Changes Can We Expect When It Comes to Traveling in the “New Normal”?
In addition to taking temperatures and installing plastic shields, airlines can be expected to do everything in their power to uphold social distancing standards. Regardless of how various states react — some are loosening guidelines, while others are keeping things fairly rigid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus — airlines need to err on the side of caution. With travel down and their finances dwindling, they need to win consumers’ trust, and that usually means practicing an abundance of caution.