Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Welcome Aboard the New Normal
In our COVID-19 pandemic-ravaged world there’s probably no more horrifying scenario than sitting trapped in a long metal tube for hours on end, elbow-to-elbow with complete strangers, all of you breathing the same air continually circulated around the interior.
Couple that with fellow passengers aged from a few months to old age and you have the perfect petri dish for fast transmission of COVID-19 infections.
That’s why air travel – with its innate ability to transmit infection across international borders - was one of the first elements of normal life to be severely restricted when the world began to comprehend COVID-19’s virulence and potential for spreading far and wide.
It seems incredible now, but not too long ago we were all quite happy to sit cramped into these long metal tubes alongside perfect strangers and breathe re-circulated air, sometimes on long haul flights across the globe that stretched for many hours on end.
In fact – many of us looked forward to it, especially those up at the sharp end in Business or Economy with more space to stretch out and indulge themselves in the in-flight luxuries.
It was a scenario that was entirely commonplace and repeated all over the world multiple times each day.
But now that COVID-19 is entrenched worldwide throughout practically every aspect of our lives and has already changed so much - what’s the future of air travel?
Will we ever see a return to those halcyon days of routine air travel – or are our hopes for such a return up in the air?
Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury has described the COVID-19 pandemic as: “The gravest crisis the aerospace industry has ever known.”
Elsewhere, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents almost 300 airlines, said the industry: “…is only at the very beginning of a long and difficult recovery,” and added there is: “…tremendous uncertainty about what impact a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in key markets could have.”
To put it in cold perspective, in April, Heathrow Airport’s passenger numbers were down by 97 percent; and it was estimated that 30 percent of the world’s 26,000 commercial jets were grounded.
However, despite all the stark realities of cancelled flights, staff lay-offs, passenger numbers dwindling to almost nothing and mothballed fleets of aircraft, it’s worth remembering that even before COVID-19 the air travel industry had a resilient legacy of bouncing back from setbacks.
A comparable crisis came in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, which engendered fear in the travelling public and as a result, created tumbling passenger numbers.
Those passenger numbers eventually came back, although the healing process in the industry incorporated adjustments in activities and operations to align with reduced demands.
Some airlines went out of business, while others with expansion plans were forced to scale them back to keep operating efficiently and profitably, to keep pace with an altered business environment.
A graphic illustration of this is the high-demand lucrative US market, which prior to 9/11 had eight dominant airlines, but now only has four.
But the overall result was a leaner and arguably more efficient industry, although passengers forced to cram into the fewer flights available might take issue with that.
The air travel industry has also come under concerted fire in recent years from the climate change lobby, which demonised aircraft emissions as a major cause of global warming.
This argument has achieved a certain degree of ratification during the COVID-19 pandemic, with sharp drop in worldwide fli