24 Jun The Rise of Sanitised Travel: How will the customer experience be affected by COVID-19?

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After a long day, you can’t wait to catch your flight home. The ride to the airport was smooth and it was just a short walk to the check-in row. You found an available self-service kiosk, just as the previous user headed towards the bag-drop station, rubbing his red runny nose. Check-in was a breeze and you strolled towards the unmistakable security checkpoint signage. You were pleasantly surprised to find only one lady ahead of you in your security queue. No alarms or surprises and your security screening was completed even before the group of cabin crew in the adjacent lane! The shops in the transit areas were very attractive, but you were reminded by a notification on your phone that it was time to start boarding. You headed straight to the priority lane at the boarding gate for final boarding. Fantastic! 30 minutes from check-in to boarding and you are just two hours from reaching home. “Excuse me.” You glanced at the adjacent lane and a fellow passenger apologised after accidently sneezing in your direction. You managed to get some sleep on board, but were occasionally awoken by coughing heard from the row behind…

The described situation is one of the many examples of how we used to smoothly navigate our way through an airport without paying too much attention to our fellow travellers. The way of travelling by air has drastically changed as a result of COVID-19, but do not worry! Airports and airlines are taking numerous actions that will help you reach your destination in a safe and healthy manner. In this blog, we will help you to understand what measures are being taken and how it will impact your journey as a passenger.

Additional measures, such as wearing a face mask and limited in-flight services, will nevertheless have a significant impact on the customer experience.

Returning to business as usual?

The first question that needs to be answered here is whether air travel will actually return to business as usual. From April onwards, numerous organisations have published studies on the willingness to fly amongst passengers after certain travel restrictions are lifted. One of these researches by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) concludes that just 14% of the consumers would return to the air as soon as travel bans are lifted. This is just one of the many indicators that air travel as we knew it will be changed in an unprecedented way.

Amidst this change will be the reformed attitude of both the general public and the aviation sector towards safety, health and the environmental impact of travelling by air. For example, the newly acquired teleworking skills of numerous businesses have made many people realise that face-to-face meetings are not always a must. Together with the increased concern on the health and safety implications of air travel, it is more than understandable that consumers are re-evaluating their travel needs. How can this trust be regained in these uncertain times?

As we experience day-by-day changes in the way countries are recovering from the pandemic, airports are busy with redesigning their entire airport experience which they have been building up ever so carefully for the past decades. Every part of the passenger journey, from the moment you book your ticket until you walk out of the destination airport, is being revamped to prevent any kind of disease transmission and take away any stress you might have. The following section will provide you with some of the main implications on how your journey will be affected after the travel bans have been lifted.

A stress-free airport experience

Your journey starts at home, where you book your ticket. Next to filling in the standard personal information, additional questions concerning your health status might be asked as well. Airlines in India and Vietnam are already obligating passengers to fill in a medical declaration before their flight with the use of an app designed by the competent authorities.

The physical airport journey starts when you enter the departure hall. Most passengers will note that a lot has been changed since the last time they have flown. The social distancing measures have changed the lay-out and numerous warning signs will be visible throughout the airport. Most airports require passengers to wear face masks at all times and other checks, such as blood tests and thermal screening, might also be implemented, but only as a preventive measure. For more information on continuous screening, see our previous blog.

Your first stop within the airport terminal could be the check-in. Online check-in will likely be favored over the conventional check-in at the airport as this will further reduce contact with other passengers (in the queue) and airport staff. However, this is not always possible, so airport personnel will still have to be ready to welcome passengers at their check-in area, may it be at the self check-in or at the traditional desks. A touchless process, with the use of biometric scans, might also be favored by many passengers. For more information about the effect of reduced interaction with airport staff, please see one of our previous blogs.

After the check-in, you will continue to the security area. This will be a part of the process where you might be scrutinized to human contact for security reasons. But do not worry! Security personnel has been given strict procedures by Airports Council International (ACI) on how to maintain the level of security that we are used to whilst preserving the appropriate distance as much as possible. Additionally, some airports and airlines have chosen to suspend their Fast Track option for passengers who would like to swiftly move through the security process. This is one of the examples where the airports and airlines are prioritizing the health of all passengers over the preferences of the individual passenger. Customers that enjoyed certain priviliges at the airport (e.g. business and firs class passengers) will have to readjust their expectations as such extras will be reduced for the time being.

Regarding the airside lounges many airports have chosen to close a (large) number of restaurants, shops and other facilities. This results in a limited availability for passengers to relax before they start boarding and for some (more importantly) to reduce the stress level after they have cleared security. This reduced service offered by the airport will negatively affect the customer experience, as they will have little to do before they continue to the next stage of their flight.

The boarding process is one of the most vital parts of the journey, as several people will be exposed to close contact with each other, at the gate, in the jetbridge and in the aircraft. This process is often experienced as one of the most stressfull events for a passenger. Airlines have implemented numerous measures to maintain the throughput of passengers in a safe and healthy manner. Examples are zone boarding, which minimizes contact with your fellow travelers, virtual queuing apps, where the passenger is alarmed when it is time to board and additional temperature screenings. By implementing such strategies, passengers will be able to avoid contact amongst each other. Communication is key here to avoid any negative effects on the experience of the customer. Airlines and airport alike have to inform the passenger on the renewed boarding process so that everyone knows exactly what to do.

Once onboard, additional measures have been taken to safeguard the health of the passengers. HEPA filters already remove over 99% of all the airborne contaminants inside the aircraft. However, airlines have taken the next step to make sure that passengers are  transported in the safest way possible. Additional measures, such as wearing a face mask and limited in-flight services, will nevertheless have a significant impact on the customer experience. For example, some airlines require their onboard personnel to wear full body Personal Protective Equipment. It is important to note that some passengers can feel more alienated in an already unfamiliar environment. Extra care needs to be given to those passengers to make sure they feel safe during the entirety of the flight.

Our new reality

As described, numerous measures have been taken throughout the airport journey to prevent any kind of virus transmission. Similar to other major events, such as 9/11 and the SARS outbreak, COVID-19 will be the cause of a new paradigm shift, which will be focussed on automatization and health. Before the pandemic, customers were mostly focussed on fast throughput times and the (retail) facilities and services (such as Wi-Fi) offered by the airport. However, this attention has now shifted towards cleanliness, well-being and self-service.

The additional services we have all become accustomed to, both on the ground and in the air, will be limited the first time we book our next trip. Speed and efficiency have to make way for longer travel times due to preventive measures taken at almost every part of the journey. The stimulation and preference of self-service facilities will reduce the need for human contact. More so, a touchless process (with the use of biometric scans) might finally materialise in which your face serves as your ticket. Such an implementation would not only take away the need for physical procedures but will also introduce a seamless passenger flow in which queues will be limited. It is key to make passengers aware of the necessity and benefits that arise with these measures. Only by doing so, the passenger will embrace our new reality.

Photo by prostooleh / Freepik

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com.

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Desley Kemper
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Desley Kemper is an Aviation Consultant for To70 since 2015, working at the Dutch and Australian To70 offices. Desley worked in a variety of project teams related to multi-disciplinary subjects like environmental impact, climate vulnerability, forecasting, terminal design, passenger process analysis, risk management and safety. At this moment, Desley is leading and supporting a variety of environmental, optimization and forecasting projects for airports and governmental bodies like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.
Deborah Grau Cohen
Deborah Grau Cohen
Deborah Grau Cohen is a Junior Aviation Consultant for To70.
1Comment
  • Monica Coellho
    Posted at 13:22h, 12 August Reply

    The way we travel has changed a lot, now we have to be more cautious and take all the safety measures that we can to protect ourself and our loved ones from this deadly virus. Washing hands regularly, Practicing good hygiene, Covering up, Maintaining social distance are few important factors that one should practice while traveling. I think responsibilities on airport authorities have increased a lot now since they are the ones that should take all the measures and make sure that all the passengers are safe. Now is the best time for airports to start implementing newer technology to gather and analyze the passengers’ experience. using AI, Machine Learning, and Sentiment Analysis to consistently collect and analyze qualitative customer comments that an airport receives from sources like social media, online reviews, internal surveys, support emails, and more will help airports understand the areas which they need to work on. This will help them in increasing the passengers’ experience at the airport.

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