How the pandemic changed air travel?

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Photo by Oskar Kadaksoo/Unsplash

The travel industry was hard hit by the corona-virus pandemic. The airlines around the world felt the punch and were brought to a standstill. They suspended over 90% of operations as a result of the lock-downs in Europe, Asia, and North America earlier this year.

As of July and August airlines try to recover and restructure, seek financial help, and rid of redundancies on the ground and in the air. With the resurgence of Covind-19 cases in the US and in other parts of world, however, the travel demand is still at a minimum.

These conditions have brought about significant changes to the industry and to the way we fly today.

Cleaner airplanes

How many times in the pre-corona-virus era you’ve boarded a plane and found the seat or the tray dirty and unpleasant? It happened quite often, isn’t it?

No matter if budget or full service the airline, the time airlines spent to turn around a plane on the ground was simply not enough to get the cabin fully checked, cleaned and ready for the next flight. It was all because when planes do not fly they make no money for the airline. It seemed everything was dead set on profits and dividends. But these days are gone.

In a pandemic world to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members airlines perform a thorough cleaning with industrial level solutions. Here is how United Airlines, for example, puts passengers’ “safety and cleanliness at the forefront.”

Emirates is another good example. “Aircraft cabins have advanced HEPA air filters that eliminate 99.97% of viruses and ensure a sterile cabin environment. Every day, 248 Emirates aircraft undergo enhanced deep cleaning and disinfection before departing Dubai. Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight with us,” claims the official YouTube channel of the airline.

Social distancing

While at the airport during checking-in or boarding airlines and airports implement variety of measure to keep travelers at safe distance or at least 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. It has become a standard that as you enter an airport you have to wear a mask. The same goes for while in the air.

More airlines enforce stricter rules on wearing a face covering on-board. Basically, if you have no mask, you can’t fly even if you have conditions that prevent you from wearing a mask.

Airlines are likely to provide you with a hygiene kit upon boarding or at check-in. For example, Delta Airlines stared providing hygiene kits upon request at ticket counters and gates beginning June 5. The kits include a disposable face mask, hand sanitizer gel, and an information card with details on how Delta keeps things clean.

Wile on-board some airlines still try to maintain social distancing between passenger by blocking the meddle seat. However, as it turns economically unfeasible to operate when the cabin is half full some airlines more airline decide to not keep the middle seat empty. They’d give their passengers the option, however, to chose a different, less crowded flight, if the passengers are concerned about their safety.

Delta Airlines Hygiene Kit
Delta Airlines Hygiene Kit.

Airlines mobile apps become especially helpful at this time. They allow for passengers to get a digital boarding pass or check-in remotely at the airport, thus, minimizing human-to-human contact greatly.

Food and beverage on-board

Food and beverage service on-board in economy class has never been a big deal even before the pandemic. Because of the limited food service and the overly priced food-for-purchase options on board we have learned to eat at the airport or take our own choice of food in the cabin.

The fear of spreading the virus compelled airlines to move to packed and sealed bags containing a bottle of water and a snack. The choice of beverage is no longer an option.

Passengers in premium economy, business, and first class can certainly felt a downgrade in service. All of their food is now packaged on a try with no menu to chose from. You get what you’re served.

Aircraft type retirements

And while we are on the topic of cabin classes is worth mentioning for those used to traveling in premium cabins that perhaps, they’d be less such options in the future.

Because of low travel demand airlines realized that they can no longer operate wide-body, quad-jet aircraft efficiently and with their departure went the premium cabins. Let;s take the Airbus A380 and A340, or the Boeing 747, for example.

These types of aircraft have been either temporally grounded or completely removed from airlines’ fleet as being too costly to operate in the current down market. Some airlines replaced them with the newer and more fuel efficient the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Just a month ago British Airways announced that it retried all of their Boeing 747s with an immediate effect. Singapore Airlines retired all of their A380s as well as Air France and Qatar Airways.

Qantas sent to the junk yard all of their 747s a month ago and kept their A380s grounded for the time being. Other A380s operators like the Emirates, Lufthansa, and Etihad continue to keep their A380s grounded but the future the aircraft type is uncertain.

Other wide body jets have not been speared. The US Delta Air Lines recently retired all of their Boeing 777s. Orders for new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus decreased significantly in past months.


With with the removal of aircraft types airlines made swiping layoffs of ground and in-flight crews. The job of pilots, flight attendants, and ground personnel are all up in the air at this point.

Emirates has already started to slash 9,000 employees. The German Lufthansa Airlines to lay off some whooping 22,000 employees. In early July CBSnews reported that United Airlines expects to let 36,000 employees go… The number of airline employees that is expected to be out of work around the world is staggering.

More to change

However, changes to the air travel industry are are not limited to these alone. Traveling today requires a lot more from a passenger then ever before.

Think of how we need to take into account travel restrictions at to our destination such as a ban on travelers from certain countries. For instance, the European Union (EU) recently imposed travel restriction on passengers coming to the EU.

We might be able to get to one destination, however, we might not be able to get to our next or final destination unless we mandatory self-quarantine for 14-days upon arrival. Certain countries allow to substitute the quarantine with a negative Covid-19 test. At some airports currently you can get tested.

The unpredictability of the pandemic swiftly can lead to changes by local authorities. Thus, before we travel we have to look for information and resources online that will help us make the right decisions.

Calling the airline, getting in touch with the destination country embassy’s office, or checking our home country travel advisory website are all necessary steps.

Travel is no longer fun experience that we anxiously look forward to, but rather a very serous undertaking. It requires considerable preparation and it has become a sort of necessity.

According to Airlines for America, it is unlikely to see a return to 2019 passenger levels before 2023-2024. At this time travel to the US state of Hawaii, for instance, is almost non existent at 93% below for the same period of last year, Airlines for America reports. Hawaii’s economy like many other island destination relies solely on holiday travelers.

What are your thoughts on the changes of the air travel industry?


Follow Ian Powers:

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Ian Powers is a travel blogger and nature enthusiast. Ian has over 20 years of aviation travel experience.

2 Responses

  1. Dessi Ivanova

    Swissair promises surgical room air cleanness on board of their A340, thanks to the filters the aircraft is equipped with.

    • Ian Powers

      Swissair is trying to say how good their air filters are and as if the filters will help prevent the spread of germs in the cabin. But aren’t surgical air filters made for surgical rooms where everything is sterilized? The difference is that on board an aircraft nothing is as clean as in a surgical room. So such filters can have an effect to a certain degree, but they cannot prevent the contamination of the air eventually during a flight.

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