In 2020, like the rest of the world, the travel industry underwent a seismic shift. Maybe it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the industry continues to rise to the occasion, and we can now say that air travel is safe, secure and coming back stronger than before. Here’s the “state of the union” in air travel as we wind down 2020.
Pre-flight Covid-19 Testing
Just in the last few weeks, the major U.S. airlines have begun to offer pre-flight Covid tests for travelers. This convenient service is being rolled out, with more and more airports coming online. At the moment, you can find testing centers at Oakland, Bradley, Newark, JFK and Tampa International airports. While the service is not free just yet, Hawaiian Airlines has also recently entered the game, offering loyalty program members the option of redeeming their air miles for an express pre-flight Covid test, promising results in under 72 hours.
Even though they continue to be a controversial protocol, the data doesn’t lie. Masking up keeps you safe wherever you are, and that definitely includes when you’re on a flight. Masks prevent Covid transmission in the air, and we know this because there have been no major outbreaks on domestic or international flights since the mandates began. In fact, the airlines are so confident about the efficacy of masks that many of them have started unblocking middle seats on flights, a step many airlines took in the early days of the pandemic. While there are still a few domestic holdouts, look for the rest to fall in line with unblocking in early 2021.
Vaccines on the Horizon
Just in the past week, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced they have working vaccines that are more than 90% effective in clinical trials. Though the travel industry is not high on the priority list for receiving vaccinations, this news has already spurred a bump in travel bookings. Consumer confidence will continue to be bolstered by this news, even as it’s’ generally understood that vaccinations are not likely to be widely implemented until well into 2021.
Vaccines could change international travel for the foreseeable future, with some destinations mandating documentation before allowing people to land on their shores.
Bigger, Spashier Vacations in 2021
Since many people understandably passed on a vacation in 2020, tour operators are already seeing an uptick in the dollar amounts people are spending on trips in 2021. Folks who have the cash are spending an average of 20% more on their vacation picks, and are booking with the attitude that they want to make their first trip back extra special.
Touch-Free Travel is Here to Stay
The airline, hotel and car rental industries have shifted as much as possible to a touch-free experience, and we predict this welcome change is here to stay. Even though Covid-19 is now widely understood not to be transmitted via surfaces, who can deny that touch-free check-in is more sanitary and often faster than the more hands on way companies used to do things.
In addition, the more comprehensive and extensive cleaning protocols mean people can feel much more comfortable in public places. Look to see more automation in this department, with roving, cleaning robots already in place in some Asian airports.
A Boarding Breakthrough
Another improvement that seems long overdue (and we frankly hope is here to stay) are the expedited and more intuitive boarding procedures from the back of the front, thus eliminating the crush of humanity we all experienced in the before” times. Let’s keep boarding airplanes from the back to front – it minimizes contact AND cuts way back on crowding.
HEPA Air Filtration for the Win
One more important element in the skies keeping travelers safe are the hospital grade air filtration systems that are virtually ubiquitous at this point. What you need to know is that these systems recirculate and filter air very quickly (once every 2-3 minutes, in fact) and this combined with a sterilization process keeps the air free of more than 99% of all viruses. Read more about how airlines are keeping your cabin air safe.
No doubt the next few months will bring additional improvements to help make the travel experience safer for us all. Check back to see what news we’re bringing you as developments unfold.