Into the unknown - flying is ‘no longer about the price, leg room or baggage allowance’

21 August, 2020

Like that first day in a new job, there will be a degree of apprehension when we return to flying. Things will be different and those of us that have developed our own set routines when we travel may be knocked off course – notably corporate travellers that are on the road the most often. But we will quickly adapt and build new processes to support the current environment.

One of the biggest changes will actually come before we have even left our homes on the traveller journey. In the past travel managers and those of us that book our own travel have had to navigate through numerous thought processes when it comes to booking flights, accommodation and more. These could vary from flight schedule, airport and hotel locations, obviously price and far too many more parameters to mention.

Now, those options are a lot more limited. Even finding a suitable flight can be difficult, let alone finding a preferred schedule that better meets our own plans. Daren Pickering, senior director enterprise architecture at travel management company CWT, says research about flying in the Covid-19 era is that it is "no longer about the price, leg room or baggage allowance”.

Instead travellers and travel managers are now looking to make more informed choices based around the risks of travel and are seeking information about precautions that they will need to take at each destination in a clear and concise way. The biggest issue prior to any trip now is safety.

In the mind of travel buyers and travellers alike previous questions such as do we have flexibility to switch to an earlier flight?, do we get to take a second bag into the cabin in this fare class?, have now been replaced by can we trust the airport, the airline, and the transport at the other end of the journey? or would the hotel put travellers at any greater risk than if they stayed at home?

The level of risk is particularly high at the business level, putting staff and potentially the whole wider business in the line of fire. This travel risk dilemma is currently facing every business around the world as they start to consider resuming travel: Can I send my team on business trips if there is a risk of catching coronavirus and could an employee bring the virus back home with them and spread it to others?

“The truth is that there will be uncertainty and nobody can predict what might happen,” notes CWT’s Daren Pickering in a blog post highlighting his own concerns when his family recently travelled for the first time since the coronavirus hit.

The initial rise of VFR and leisure demand after travel restrictions were lifted highlights the pent up demand from months in lockdown, but in many cases they have been mirrored with rising Covid-19 infection rates. There is no solution right now and every decision has to be made based on a economic and risk balance. In most cases that is appearing to fall more heavily into the latter category.

Recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) evidence based on trends in business and consumer confidence indicate that the recovery in air transport volumes from the Covid-19 crisis will be "gradual and patchy". It says global business confidence "rebounded sharply" following a low in Apr-2020 as countries loosened restrictions and business became more "upbeat" regarding the resumption of economic activity.

This rebound would normally bode well for the air travel outlook, given the historical relationship between business sentiment and air traveller volumes. However, IATA reported a weakened relationship between business confidence and air travel due to limited corporate travel budgets, increased use of online conferencing, continued international travel restrictions and ongoing health and duty of care concerns.

In terms of consumer confidence, IATA says consumer sentiment remains subdued and close to a record low, despite a modest improvement from May-2020. IATA says this partly reflects concerns about rising unemployment and the continuity of government support programmes in the coming months. The association stated these concerns are likely to continue to weigh on demand for leisure travel, along with uncertainty regarding containment of the pandemic.