When can I go and visit family? When can I have a much needed holiday that I so surely deserve after this lock-down?
These are questions most people must be asking after the craziness of the last few months. Being locked inside for weeks on end, people are desperate for some semblance of what they remember as “normality” to return. Often the only thing that keeps us going is the vision of that overseas holiday we are working so hard for. Warm sunny days on some exotic beach to recharge us for the next onslaught of domestic bliss.
Unsurprisingly, the airlines are every bit as keen as their customers to get full planes back in the air. That is those airlines that have been able to survive the Covid19 suspension of travel. When we restart airline schedules, I’m sure we will not be seeing all players return to the table, and some that do will somehow be different from the way they started the year.
So many things need to line up before travel can start again, and different parts of the world will treat it differently. For example, here in Australia, we still have travel restrictions between the states. So we can go and holiday now within our own state, but no further. There has been talk of a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia, two countries which have been very successful in their dealing with Covid19. The travel bubble basically acknowledges that both country’s approach to Covid19 is similar enough to forge a trust between the two to enable free travel back and forth. The hold up for this bubble to start is the fact that Australia’s states are still not open to each other, much less another country.
So with many countries now getting on top of Covid19, what can we expect? Well, many airlines are seeing this as a sign that things may be ready to start swinging back into action. Let’s face it, how long can you bleed money before you need to get back to business? Not that it is up to the airlines. Countries need to agree with each other as to the terms of letting flights commence between them and within their own borders. Nobody wants to start a second wave of the pandemic when we have come so far.
QANTAS, here in Australia, are anticipating they will reach 40 capacity compared to pre-pandemic activity for domestic travel by the end of July 2020. In the U.S., American Airlines anticipates flying 55% of its domestic schedule compared to the same period in 2019. In May, American only flew 20% of that schedule. Bear in mind that this is the Northern Hemisphere summer, so demand is high. In both cases, the announcements have helped the share price of these airlines as confidence in that market starts to turn around. This trend is fairly common across the board.
So is all this activity a sign that things are going back to normal? To be honest, no. Covid19 is still out there and is by no means a lesser threat than it was a few months ago. We don’t have a vaccination yet, so it could rear its ugly head again at any time. The enablement of travel to restart again depends very much on us being able to manage things like social distancing and minimising contact with others as much as possible during the whole process. This includes the airport and inside the aircraft cabin, taking all the usual precautions we employ on the ground.
Some airlines have been controlling which seats are allocated so as to create spaces between passengers. Whether it be not allocating the middle seat in a set of three, or putting a single passenger in each row, other than families which can sit together. Whilst the aircraft cabin is an enclosed space like any other form of transport like a bus or train, IATA has released a Briefing Paper which is worth looking at if you are indenting to fly. This outlines how aircraft cabin air is different from those trains and buses. In short, aircraft cabins use HEPA(High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters to ensure the air you breath is free from better than 99% of airborne bacteria and viruses. The airflow is a 50/50 mix between outside air and recycled internal air which gives on average 15 to 20 cubic feet of air per minute per passenger. The personal air from above can also ensure you are only getting that clean air.
It is great to see that our favourite airlines may survive to take us back into the wild blue yonder at some future time. Starting some services as described above will surely help, but we’re not out of the woods by a long shot. Airlines still have many aircraft sitting on the ground, not earning money, in fact costing money. In many cases, no doubt, the income from the start-up of the limited services will come nowhere near covering the costs, but simply slow down the money bleed. As a flow-on effect, those airlines have orders for new aircraft from the likes of Boeing, Airbus and others, which are coming due for delivery and payment. This presents a bit of a balancing act in the relationship between the airlines and manufacturers. Many, if not all, airlines are seeking a delay to their aircraft deliveries and payments as obviously cash is tight. Also, schedules don’t actually require any new aircraft to be added right now and there is certainly no market for used older aircraft either. For their part, Boeing and Airbus also need cash flow to keep their businesses going, so it is a fine line between holding airlines to their commitments and giving leniency and time extensions until the market improves. Outspoken CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has reportedly told Boeing and Airbus if they don’t come to the party and give time extensions, his airline will no longer buy aircraft from them.
So interesting times ahead. How do you feel about travel beginning again, or have you already travelled in a Covid19 world? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. So many are still living in their isolation bubble, so news of what really happens out in the real world is a nice departure from what might be fake news. Fly safe everyone.