Leaders from across the global aviation industry
came together for a live broadcast last week, which explored
strategies to accelerate recovery and future growth in light of
the COVID19 pandemic.

FlightPlan: Strategies for Recovery, hosted
by Inmarsat Aviation and the Airline Passenger Experience
Association (APEX), saw over 50 industry voices exchange views on
the present and future of aviation.

Summarising the day’s events, Philip Balaam,
President of Inmarsat Aviation, said “A wide range of initiatives have already been
executed to make flying viable and safe – from an overhaul of
cleaning protocols to greater social distancing across the
passenger journey. Under different circumstances, many of these
changes could have taken years to introduce. The next phase will
delve even further into the passenger mindset, ensuring that
consistent policies, measures and technologies are implemented to
restore confidence in airline travel. While many hurdles still lie
ahead, the single most overwhelming sentiment expressed during FlightPlan yesterday was one of optimism.”

American Airlines Boeing 777 reg: N719AN. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

A particular highlight of the day was the launch
of Inmarsat’s ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’, one of the world’s largest
surveys of airline passengers since the pandemic began. Reflecting
the views and attitudes of almost 10,000 respondents from 12
countries, it revealed that 83 per cent of air passengers expect
their travel habits to change in the long-term as a result of

Reflecting on what the industry can take from the
study in order to rebuild confidence, Niels Steenstrup, Inmarsat
Aviation’s Senior Vice President of Inflight Business, told
viewers, “The fundamental message is about consistency. Passengers
want to be able to board a plane anywhere and be confident that
the same hygiene practices are being followed. They want a
consistent set of safety standards around the world, and more
consistency on quarantine rules … Worries about flying are all too
often a result of inconsistencies and lack of assurance about what
they will be met with at the airport, on the plane or at the
destination. Co-operation between nations will undoubtedly help
restore passenger confidence.”

Agreeing with Steenstrup, Peter Harbison, Chairman
of CAPA Centre for Aviation, said that “a harmonious and standardised
way for looking after passengers” is needed. “The biggest problem
is the unilateralism we have seen develop.”

Another key theme of the day was the growing
relevancy of trust and reputation. Robert Carey, Chief Commercial
and Customer Officer at easyJet, said, “In an economic downturn,
customers want value and a brand they can trust.”

This is
supported by data from the ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’, which
finds 44 per cent of passengers believe reputation is now a more
significant factor when choosing an airline than it was

“Trust is super critical for any brand, but
certainly for those that have a safety component like airlines,”
agreed Anton Vidgen, APEX President and Air Canada Head of Brand
Experience. “It was important before the pandemic and it’s
especially important during the pandemic.”

There was a clear focus throughout FlightPlan on
the importance of digital solutions as a short-term solution to
boost confidence and safety, through reducing touchpoints and
interactions throughout the journey experience.

Gustavo Nader, Thales’ Head of Strategy, IFE and
Connectivity, noted a growing trend for traveller autonomy,
enabled by digitisation.

“Travellers are increasingly reliant on
self-directed resources to get information about their travel
experience,” he said. “Airports and airlines will be required to
accelerate their digital transformation in a way that increases
the independence of the traveller and reduces their reliance on
touchpoints and interactions.”

Airline leaders echoed this, arguing that the
pandemic has accelerated their digital transformation plans.
Vidgen noted that Air Canada has already adopted touchless bag
check and is exploring innovative technologies from biometrics to
automatic gate boarding. Implementing touchless technologies
throughout the journey, he believes, will ensure “that customers
feel confident and can serve themselves as much as possible.”

Matt Klein, CCO of Spirit, noted another shift in
passenger habits: the uptake of ancillary services. “The Spirit
business model, with optionality of services, is working. There is
a lot of value for guests with that and our ancillary revenue
generation numbers are back where they were last year,” he said.

Research from the Passenger Confidence Tracker supports Klein’s
comments, with value added services – such as extra legroom and
free baggage – becoming increasingly important to passengers in

Despite the deep challenges facing aviation as a
result of the pandemic, FlightPlan speakers expressed positivity
in how the industry has adapted at speed, and shared optimism for
the recovery phase.

Perry Cantarutti, SVP Alliances, Delta Air
Lines, said that “we’re learning to realise that we can’t let
it [COVID19] conquer our ability to live our lives and run our
businesses, but we have to be able to do that in a safe way”. He
noted that growing travel confidence in the US domestic market in
particular is an “encouraging” sign.

According to Andrés Castañeda, CMO and CXO,
AeroMexico, the pandemic has led the airline – and the wider
industry – to identify ways to be more agile in the future. “We
can change our processes and policies faster than we ever thought
we could,” he said. “With COVID, we need to reimagine how we
operate to bring trust back to customers. That has been a silver
lining of the past eight months.”

Ben Smith, CEO of AirFrance KLM reiterated this,
saying, “The crisis has forced us to be more agile. It’s forced
us to really try and be a step ahead of our competitors”. He ended
with a note of optimism for the industry: “People have family and
friends around the world. People like holidays. People have
businesses. That’s not disappearing. If borders are open, they
will come back.”

Whilst acknowledging that passenger habits will
have changed, easyJet’s Carey shared the sentiment that the
appetite for travel will not dissipate. Reflecting on the
passenger of the future, he said: “Are they going to interact with
us [airlines] differently? Absolutely. But the brands set up to
win are going to have a really bright future.”

See also:

Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) – State of the
Industry with Subhas Menon, DG and
Air Travel and COVID19 – Exclusive Interview with SITA’s President
of Asia Pacific, Sumesh Patel.

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