U.S. airlines were experiencing one of the largest years of passenger growth in their history prior to the onset of COVID-19, when, in a matter of days, they were in crisis mode. ATCA CEO Peter F. Dumont sat down with Airlines for America (A4A) CEO Nicholas E. Calio to discuss how airlines were impacted and how they are seeing their way forward to recovery as well as protecting passenger health to boost confidence in airline travel.
A4A is a trade association for the country’s leading passenger and cargo airlines and advocates for America’s airlines as models of safety, customer service, and environmental responsibility. Its members drive nearly $1.5 trillion in U.S. economic activity and 10 million U.S. jobs. As such, the pandemic impact was swift, and Calio says that this time last year, when it was reported airlines had reached the “golden age” feels like a “distant memory.”
Now with recovery on the mind, safety of passengers and employees has been the top priority for airlines, according to Calio. “It’s a shared responsibility,” he points out, with each part of the passenger journey implementing changes and working together with others in the aviation ecosystem. The goal is to ensure the health and safety of the passengers and crew.
Before travelers leave their homes, they will find many new protocols to be able to “fly healthy and fly smart,” Calio pointed out. The first change is that a mask will be required. Calio said that this will be a learned practice, as some passengers are resistant. All A4A carriers are making it a requirement during the entire travel journey.
“Face coverings are being handled the right way right now. We require them of our employees and our passengers.” Calio explained that this practice is to help everyone stay healthy and it’s taken very seriously. Passengers are warned to keep their facemask on, or never fly that carrier again. “It’s substantial.”
As passengers enter the airport, check-in kiosks are being disinfected more frequently and plexiglass shields have been put in place for an extra layer of protection for agents and passengers alike. Similarly, airports that once viewed biometrics as a future technology, are now expediting solutions that create a contactless passenger journey.
“There are very few silver linings here,” Calio reflected on when Dumont asked about lessons learned. “But I do believe this crisis will breed innovation. There will be a closer look at biometrics, touchless screening of passengers, and bags. There will be innovations that in the end, will make the passenger experience more seamless.”
Dumont agreed, saying that before this pandemic, many airports were looking to slowly integrate biometrics, “Now it’s a necessity that will help build aviation back up.”
Usage of smart devices is highly encouraged by A4A carriers for flight check-in to avoid high touchpoints. Carriers are also looking to conduct thermal checks for passengers and crew that are boarding. And once the passenger enters the aircraft, they will notice social distancing practices. For example, some carriers are not selling the middle seat to allow for space. Face coverings are required through the flight. Cleaning technology and practices are exceeding what is required, the utilization of HEPA filters to clean the air, increased frequency in cleaning with EPA-approved disinfectants and electrostatic spraying and fogging to treat the seats, trays, and all other surfaces, Calio explained.
“We are taking a multi-layered approach to keeping our passengers and crews safe.”
When asked if Calio felt that air travel was safe enough to take his own family, he quickly responded positively. “It is safe to travel with these new procedures. At this point, I’d take my family on an airplane before I take them to the grocery store,” he concluded.