US airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) has said that as air travel struggles to return to pre-coronavirus levels, the industry is adopting new patterns of operating that might become permanent during a prolonged recovery.
A4A, which advocates on behalf of its members to shape crucial policies and measures that promote safety, security and a healthy U.S. airline industry, believes that in particular, airlines are likely to continue to offer customer flexibility, to periodically rethink fleets and routes, and focus on retaining a core group of employees.
“But any meaningful recovery will also require widely accepted vaccination,” A4A’s vice-president and chief economist John Heimlich told the International Aviation Forecast Summit in Cincinnati on October 12, Flightglobal reported.
Flightglobal quoted Heimlich as saying that it was a five year proposition just in terms of raw volume. “The challenge will be ‘getting at least 50%-70% of the population’ to get the vaccine, the website said in a report.
A4A said that while all of the long-term effects of the coronavirus on air travel are not yet clear, there are new trends emerging which may end up benefiting the commercial aviation industry, despite the ongoing dearth of travellers.
“For example, Thursdays and Mondays are beginning to be more popular with travellers as numerous jobs have moved to a “work-from-a-place-other-than-the-office” model, Hemlich said. That means potential passengers have more flexibility when they are able and willing to travel.
With change fees being eliminated most US carriers, customers who are looking to take a leisure break or visit family and friends in a different city have started increasingly making their bookings 14-30 days out, the website said.
Though passenger demand remains on a very low level, flightglobal reported that A4A said these new policies could be driving some of the renewed confidence in air travel.
“People are constantly worried about quarantines and restrictions” at their outbound destinations, but also when they return home, Heimlich says. But customers “now may have more confidence to book further in advance because they know they have more flexibility to change the bookings.”
Heimlich was quoted as saying that “Demands of a leisure-oriented traveler are quite different from a business traveller,” with airlines plotting more extensive networks and new routes that focus on travel primarily for fun rather than for work. “Long haul international and corporate will lag [leisure travel], that’s where the real question will be,” flightglobal said.
According to US Department of Commerce statistics quoted by the trade group, Mexico was the clear leader in US-international travel in September, with 946,000 passengers. Of those, about two-thirds were US citizens going to Mexico. Along with Brazil, Mexico was the only other countries to which US citizens have been able to travel freely since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many nations in Europe and Asia still require US citizens to quarantine upon arrival, or have closed their borders completely to them.
Overall, international travel is still 88% lower than in the same period a year ago, Heimlich says. Non-citizen arrivals are 90% lower, and US citizen departures are 85% lower.
A4A’s members include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS. Air Canada is an associate member.