Coronavirus is having a deep, profound effect on the industry stretching and pushing airlines across the globe who have to react quickly to an ever-changing landscape. The playing field is not just moving on a daily basis but changing shape and morphing to something that the airline industry has never had to face before.
The reality is that this will be short lived, and the industry will have the opportunity to return to whatever normality that can be expected. We believe this global disruption gives airlines a chance to trial new products, challenge the status quo and look to provide the increasingly fragile passenger base a chance to be valued in new ways.
It’s a safe bet to suggest that design agencies and airlines will now be looking at antimicrobial surfaces and fabrics to increase the hygienic nature of the cabins – although there is still insufficient, (and contrasting) data to prove how this has been spread. Surfaces will be re-evaluated over the coming years in response to this pandemic, and over time the airline industry will be even more prepared for a future outbreak. However, it’s not just the time to look at long-term measures that can help mitigate the impact this has had on consumer confidences but also to look at short term wins. We explore just two concepts that we’ve been thinking of, but there are plenty more to be explored.
LOPA and enhancing the passenger experience
Anyone who has travelled in Europe in business class has probably experienced ‘Euro-Business’ – a concept including a blocked-off middle seat, giving the sense of more privacy, personal space in what is effectively an economy hard product. To build brand preference, an airline really should block off all middle seats as a temporary measure, to increase ‘social distancing’ – a temporary buzz word, and give a psychological benefit to passengers that their health will be at less risk.
The additional benefit is that by blocking off these seats, in effect airlines can boost their load factors, as this is calculated by a percentage of available seats. This means that airlines can in effect, overnight, artificially increase their investor reporting.
While temporary, the end result is that airlines might find in the long term there’s an opportunity for a mid-cabin class, somewhere between Euro Business and economy, whereby people will pay a small premium for a free middle seat, even on short haul trips, something perhaps two months ago, passengers wouldn’t have considered as important.
Premium Economy perks
With many businesses now putting a curb on international travel, business class cabins will be suffering, however, all the same perks that cater to these valuable passengers will still be in play which are fixed costs to an airline.
For example airline lounges will still need to be staffed and as such airlines immediate knee-jerk reaction would be to try and reduce these costs and services. We would suggest flipping this approach, and instead welcoming Premium Economy passengers to lounges. It’s a time to build brand preference, and even up sell a future flight to a higher cabin class by tempting them with all the bells and whistles the price tag brings.
Passengers right now know that this is a temporary measure, and instead of dropping prices, add perks. Long term, airlines might realise that offering PE passengers lounge access (some airlines have already done this) they offer a substantial benefit over their competitors. As this cabin class continues to grow in popularity, its only a matter of time before a Premium Economy lounge concept comes to life.
Now is a time for designers and VPs of Customer Experience to respond as quickly to the changing landscape as the network planners are. Anything from antibacterial wipes in amenity kits, or including face masks alongside socks and eye shades, through to quickly building out new cabin classes. During check-in it could be possible for passengers to want to self isolate, and therefore passenger interaction is minimise throughout the Passenger Experience. Choice is important, and valuing those travelling even more so. We would love to see airlines shake things up, react quickly and do something that sensitively responds to the needs of today’s passengers.
TheDesignAir stands in solidarity with one of the most amazing industries, and we hope to see it recover quickly, and stronger than ever.