Higher ticket-fares, fewer routes, stringent pre-flight health checks, less free food, and even lesser players in the cutthroat aviation world—the Coronavirus pandemic is all set to usher these fundamental changes in the way air travel has been perceived over the years.
When the world started going into lockdown, one of the worst-hit industries was aviation. Some experts believe that the dent put by COVID-19 is far more than the combined crises of 9/11 and the 2008 global recession put together. According to estimates by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), “The global industry will lose $252 billion in 2020.”
With nearly two-thirds of the world’s 26,000 passenger aircraft grounded, and some 25 million jobs are at risk, the situation is grim—particularly in India, the pandemic is expected to impact more than 29 lakh jobs in the aviation and dependent industries alone as the passenger traffic has declined by 47 percent.
The post COVID world will be like walking on egg-shells for the airline companies, and if they do not make some desperate changes, the comeback flight can be shorter than expected.
Tourism can play a big role in reviving the economy hit by COVID-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told the states’ chief ministers in a meeting last week.
The essential nature of air travel is that it encompasses trade, diplomacy, business, and tourism in one go and if the PM wants to ring a pulse in the dying tourism industry—the aviation industry needs the first defibrillator shock.
IATA has identified India amongst the priority countries that need to take action for relieving the already struggling airline companies from the stress caused due to the pandemic.
The air carriers might need to incorporate higher fares to make up for the social distancing norms that will mean leaving the precious aircraft seats empty.
It’s given that some airlines will upgrade premium cabins while their fleets are grounded, resulting in an even starker difference between higher-class sections and ever more frugal economy seating.
As a result, the airlines might also increasingly charge economy passengers separately for things like baggage check-in, legroom, and meals.
The situation is reminiscent of Academy award-winning director Bong Joon-Ho’s movie Snowpiercer starring Chris Evans. The movie was about a post-dystopian world where only a train is the source of life and only those aboard can survive. But there is a class-divide as the poor are pushed to the back of a dark and dingy carriage whilst the rich and influential live comfortably in the front ‘premium’ sections.
Though it might be painting too grim a picture, there is no iota of doubt that a divide will be present in the airlines and we will have to adjust with it. The post-COVID ‘new-normal’ will take some getting used to.
Just as airport security tightened around the world after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, travelers could be subjected to tests like temperature checks, or they may even need health certificates to fly.
Although it will all boil down to keeping these pre-boarding checks nuisances as minor as possible for the passenger because reeling under the pressure of failing finances, wasting time is not a luxury that these airlines can afford.
The more time the airplanes stay parked in the hangars, the faster these companies will die out.
In order to fly safely through this turbulent time, it is of utmost importance that the airline companies launch a crisis management team or as its being coined by some in the industry – “Plan Ahead Team”. Determining the optimal size and dimensions of their networks and fleet will hold the key to the survival of airline companies.
For an industry that is already stressed, COVID-19 has only accelerated the process of bankruptcy filing by several companies (like Virgin Atlantic, Air Mauritius, Thai Airways).
Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Atlantic had once said, “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a Billion dollars and then start (buy) an airline!” and hence it is somewhat ironic that he himself is facing the music now as his Virgin Atlantic is at the brink of a major collapse.
Richard Branson is reportedly seeking a buyer for Virgin Atlantic and has set the deadline of May end to save it from an imminent collapse.
Thai Airways said on Monday (18 May) that it would file for bankruptcy after suffering severe economic setbacks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the United Kingdom, it was initially announced that no industry-wide bailout would be offered. But subsequently, the government quickly gave easyJet a £600 million loan. EasyJet was also on the verge of going down.
India needs to look at these developments and chalk out a plan that only allows airline carriers that have a long-term sustainable model. We have already seen several examples where extravagant and flashy airlines have met their premature ends.
From Kingfisher to Jet Airways, the examples are aplenty and therefore a robust system where only those players are allowed aboard who have a long term vision planned. Just like Air India, the government cannot constantly bail out a company for its incompetencies.
Today’s airline companies are fighting a price war amongst themselves. In order to attract more passengers, every airline is resorting to extremely low fares, which sometimes are lower than train fares. What was once exclusively for the rich and upper middle class has become accessible to larger common man, thanks to the number of players and low fare of airline tickets. However, it has also led to a massive degradation of services and quality and ultimately the airlines do not have the capability to carry on and finally crumble.
In nutshell, fewer airline companies in the market and therefore less pain for the industry as a whole.
The future is uncertain and no one can predict if these changes might even bear any fruit but the best these companies can do is be better prepared to tackle the situation during this sabbatical.
To avoid going into a tailspin, a thoroughly crafted and comprehensive flight plan is the need of the hour. Hopefully, the Air Traffic Controller (Modi Government) chalks out one in the nick of time. Over and out!