Not many people would choose to ride out the coronavirus pandemic in a crowded tin box. That’s why passenger demand for air travel has fallen as much as 90%. Of course, there’s also little reason to book a flight right now.
Slowly, the window for flying will reopen, presuming rates of COVID-19 infection continue to decline. Some people will have important personal or professional reasons to board aircraft in the next few months, even without much of a summer vacation season.
They’ll fly, if they feel safe.
Do airlines understand this imperative? They do if they agree with Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, whose employees are dressed head-to-toe in personal protective equipment. "Going through an airport, the whole travel experience, will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery," he told Bloomberg News. It’s a pithy quote, with an important message: Airline travel will return more quickly if airlines, airports and travelers commit to obsessive hygiene.
Carriers and airports need to rethink every step in the flying process. Thermal scans of body temperatures in terminals, frequent disinfecting scrub-downs of cabins and new boarding procedures to reduce passenger crowding in the aisles all appear part of the mix, according to The Wall Street Journal. That seems prudent to us. Cabin air systems are designed to filter out nearly all airborne particles, but there’s still potential risk. One cough from the guy in 18C or an accidental touch to a contaminated tray table could lead to viral transmission. Cleaner is safer.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that airline crew members and front-line employee should wear face masks or coverings, so we expect that to be the norm. What also needs to be enforced is a mandatory passenger dress code: We wouldn’t want to see anyone on our flight without a mask. Airlines are requiring face coverings, but they sound hesitant about enforcement because they don’t want confrontations. Here’s an American Airlines instruction to employees, per The Washington Post: "Flight attendants are instructed not to escalate the issue if the passenger refuses to wear a face covering and to consider options, such as reseating if other passengers are involved, to defuse the situation."
OK, what? If flight crews relax their guard, they’ll end up in situations like a recent Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas where, according to a Portland, Ore., TV station, nearly half the passengers weren’t wearing masks. Flyers, this is on you. Protect yourselves and everyone else on board. You want to be on an airplane with other people? Keep your face covered.
Our request to airlines during this unsettling period is to give your skittish customers more space. Don’t overcrowd your planes, and if you make promises to fly with fewer passengers, keep those promises. This is a tricky situation, we know. Carriers have drastically reduced the number of flights. United Airlines says most flights are less than half full but won’t guarantee it. Until June 30, passengers will be allowed to change reservations if a plane fills up. That’s a reasonable accommodation, but Delta goes one better. It has limited main cabin occupancy at 60% until at least June 30. Any airline that promises emptier flights throughout the summer and an unoccupied middle seat is more likely to get our business.
We’ve expressed frustration with major airlines for taking federal bailout money after spending billions on stock buybacks, confident the government would come to the rescue. It did.
The more the airlines can do to give the public confidence, the more likely travelers will consider flying again.
— Chicago Tribune