Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were a number of changes in the aviation industry. A number of airlines ceased to exist. Many luxuries vanished. The tightened security made it more of a hassle. In general, flying was no longer considered a special event by most.
The global recession of 2008 forced the airlines to scale back further still. within a decade, flying had changed significantly.
With the ongoing Coronavirus situation, it got me wondering. Will this see similar changes? It’s almost guaranteed that things wont be the same in the future. But to what extent?
Obviously how long it carries on for will dictate quite how drastic the changes are.
First off, check in. A number of airlines have already moved over to automated systems. Although there are a number of staff on hand should any questions arise. At premium check in counters, it’s still done the old fashioned way. Going forward, I can see this changing. There will still be staff, however the numbers will be greatly reduced in order to save a few salaries.
When I flew with JetBlue out of Long Beach in 2018, I don’t remember seeing a single traditional check in counter.
Instead, just a number of machines. You got your boarding pass and tagged your own bag. Then you dropped it off at a central area where just one member of staff was on duty. I can definitely see this approach becoming more widespread, regardless of the cabin you’re flying in.
I doubt there will be little to any changes when it comes to passing through security at the airport. The current worldwide situation is not a security issue, so there’s no need to change any procedures there. The only thing that could change is where an airport has multiple security lanes. Airports are feeling the pinch too, so they could reduce the number of security checkpoints in order to save on staffing costs.
If you’re able to access the airline lounges when flying, then I can see a few changes here. The most obvious will be for Europe and Asia to adopt a similar policy to what’s seen in the USA. Short haul business class wont get access. The airlines own frequent flyers wont get access. And once you do get in, all but the most basic food and drink offerings will be paid for. If you’re that desperate for access, then once more, it will be a paid for service – again, like in the USA.
Although adopting this strategy will likely alienate some of the most frequent flyers initially, as we’ve seen with most changes, it will soon be forgotten.
In The Airport
If you don’t have access to a lounge when flying, then what changes can I see happening once you’re into the airport terminal? Well, much like check in I doubt there will be too much where costs can be cut, other than reducing staff. Therefore things will be more automated. Think of those touch screen directories in your local shopping centre, but more advanced.
And on the subject of shops… There could well be less of them. If the airport needs the cash, they will bump up the rent. And if the shops cant cover this…
On The Plane
Over the past few years, more and more airlines have moved to buy on board concepts in economy. And before you say it: Not just British Airways! Menu cards can be found in the seat back pockets of many full service airlines these days. Finnair, SAS, American to name just a few off the top of my head. There’s more. Going forward, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the remaining airlines offering free catering move to a buy on board scheme. I suppose it’s not out of the question that more airlines will move to this model on long haul flights.
Moving further forward on the plane, it’s difficult to see where the airlines can make changes when flying longhaul. At least without upsetting too many people.
Short haul wise though, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see airlines do away with separate meals and instead offer a complimentary selection from the buy on board menu. Some airlines already do this. Similarly, on flights under 2 hours, the US based carriers only offer a snack basket in first class.
Seating wise, most aircraft are at their limit now. British Airways first factory fresh Airbus A320 had 150 seats when it was first delivered in 2002. In 2010, the same aircraft had 162 seats. When the current cabin was installed, the number of seats was bumped up to 168. Finally, by removing the rear washrooms, that same aircraft now has 180 seats. I very much doubt that they will be able to squeeze any more seats in, considering the airlines have already shoehorned in an extra 30 in the past 18 years.
The only change that could be made is on the Airbus A380. Assuming it’s still flying in 5 years. It has been mentioned that it could theoretically go to 11 seats abreast as opposed to the current 10. So far, all it has been is a theory. However, if the likes of Emirates and Singapore airlines become desperate to slim their fleets, this could be a way to increase capacity whilst downsizing their fleet.
This is a bit of tough one to call. Following 9/11, there was a major slump in passenger numbers. I suspect it will be a similar situation this time around. One way to tempt potential customers back on board is to offer prices they cant refuse. Therefore we could see much cheaper prices going forward as the airlines look to fill their planes. Although this will come at the cost of the services that I’ve mentioned above.
However there is a flip side to this. The airline will make more money from one person paying £200 for a ticket, than filling all 180 seats with people who have paid £1. Or even worse, having the plane half full with people paying £1.
I may be covering a ground that I’ve already gone over here.
But this will be more speculation than fact. Put simply, for those who like me, want to get as much variety in the type of aircraft they fly on, I suspect it will become more difficult in future.
In August 2001, you had the MD80, DC9, A320series, 737 Classic, 737NG, 757, BAE146, 727… and that was just short haul. If you were flying long haul, you had the 747-200, 747-400, DC10, MD11, A300, A310, A330, A340, 767, L1011, 777 – and likely more.
At the end of 2019 if you were flying short haul, the variation was smaller but there was some. You’d likely be on an A320series or a 737NG. Other options included the A320/1neo, CSeries/A220, a shrinking fleet of 757’s, the E170/175/190/195 series. Although I wont mention the 737MAX…
Longhaul options included the Boeing 747, 767, 777, 787 and from Airbus the A330, a shrinking fleet of A340’s, the A350 and the A380.
By 2025, what options will there be? The A320/1neo, the 737MAX (maybe), the A220 or the Embraer E2 for shorthaul. There’s likely to be some current A320’s around, along with the 737NG but as the newer options are more fuel efficient, they will obviously have lower running costs. The only thing that will save them is that a lot of airlines will likely own these aircraft outright. So the increased fuel costs will largely be outweighed by the cheaper ownership.
Moving on to longhaul, it’s safe to say that the 747 will be mostly gone, apart from the few -8i’s around. Much the same can be said for the 767. The A380 will likely be very much on its way out too. When it comes to the 777, I suspect the 300ER will be fairly common. But the earlier 200ER’s will become a rarity, along with the older Airbus A330’s. For the most part, longhaul flying will likely be onboard the A330neo, A350, 777-X and the 787.
Having said all this, I do hope I’m completely wrong! Although its pretty much certain that once the airlines take to the skies again, thing will be very different.