This week, YuGo attended the inaugural Arabian Travel Market Virtual (ATM), where Emirates Airlines’ president gave his views on social distancing, the recovery of the aviation industry and the future of flying. Editor Marissa Carruthers gives her views on what was said.
As the world starts to emerge from months of lockdown and we stumble along a path towards the unknown “new normal”, there are many questions on people’s minds.
When will travel resume? What will travel look like? And, most importantly, how can I travel safely? While no-one truly knows what the new world will look like in these unprecedented times, social distancing in airports and on aircraft are being mooted and heavy sanitising and safety precautions on the ground and in the air, are being introduced.
Frequent flyers will have been gasped with horror when reading reports that these new measures could lead to an average of four-hours to pass through customs and immigration, and exorbitant prices as carriers bridge the economic gap caused by capping capacity.
Speaking at a webinar during ATM, Sir Tim Clark , Emirates’ president, said social distancing on aircrafts is not a viable option. He said measures such as leaving out the middle seat “pointless”, adding if social distancing measures were to be put in place they needed to be consistent.
He noted: “There’s no point leaving the seat next to you empty because if someone in the seat behind you coughs, then it makes no difference as it will still travel 20 feet down the cabin.” To achieve this, it would mean cutting aircraft capacity by up to 50 percent – financially unviable for carriers, whether short- or long-haul.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Wizz Air CEO, Joszef Varadi , during another ATM webinar. He said these measures are impractical and will not work. “There is no scientific evidence to suggest any passengers have contracted the virus while flying. In fact, the air filtration on-board aircraft is comparable with an intensive care unit.”
Instead, Clark said until there is a vaccine it’s essential to build passenger confidence and implement strict safety measures. For example, Hong Kong International Airport has rolled out a series of measures , such as using enhanced cleaning technology including robots and body disinfection booths to protect passengers and staff.
In the air, Emirates has put in place strict protocols, including PPE (personal protection equipment) uniforms for cabin crew, and the distribution of personal hygiene kits containing gloves, masks and sanitiser to passengers. Cabin service attendants from the 380 have been relocated to 777 aircraft to sterilise toilets every 30 minutes during flights. Additionally, air filtration systems change the air every two minutes.
Clark is hoping these stringent measures will be sufficient to instil passenger confidence without social distancing measures being put in place. And that’s the big question. Will this be enough to encourage people to kick-start their travel plans once planes hit the skies once again?
Undoubtedly, there will be those eager to get off the ground, but they will be few. Once they have spent a few months testing the water, there will no doubt be a second wave of travellers who have seen it is safe and after so long grounded are desperate to explore beyond borders.
One thing that’s for sure is travel is going to remain tricky until a vaccine is found. Clark noted it’s impossible to make estimations about when travel will kick-start, but Emirates is working towards resuming to some form of normality by summer 2021 – if a vaccine is found and global inoculation programmes are rolled out in Q1 2021.
He said: “If we can get a massive global inoculation programme going by Q1 2021, and I think we have a fighting chance of that, we will start to see by summer of next year quite a large uptick in demand for travel both on short-haul and for airlines such as ourselves.”
Despite this glimmer of hope, Clark added Emirates estimates business will not resume to pre-coronavirus levels until 2023/24. Even if travel is safe, it will take time before the millions economically impacted by coronavirus have the spare cash to splash on a holiday. However, until mandatory quarantines are lifted, stringent health and safety measures rolled out and a vaccine is found, the next chapter of the aviation industry remains unknown.