The restart is on. While the past few weeks have seen offerings and traffic slowly begin to rise this week the pace is clearly shifting, with the US and Europe hitting a number of milestones.
TSA tops 20% screening
In the US market the big news was TSA screening numbers finally passing 500,000 passengers for the first time since late March followed quickly by the first time the percentage passed 20% year-over-year.
In Europe many internal borders are reopening this week. Flight operations are following suit, as airlines still hold out hope that some of the summer travel season will be salvageable. Austrian, Brussels Airlines and easyJet are among the carriers resuming flights this week.
Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines is also resuming international operations, though the country is not fully ready to welcome tourists. Despite a number of flights being restored Turkey still requires a 14-day quarantine for inbound arrivals.
More than just flights
For some airlines the resumption of flights is only part of the story. A resumption of more “soft touch” services also support the idea that passengers and airlines are prepared for a more normal travel experience. Whether it is the reopening of lounges (e.g. Air France @ CDG) or adjusting meal services back towards better offerings to passengers, this is a trend that is likely to please customers.
Catering is making a comeback, too. British Airways made huge cuts to its service, even on long-haul flights and in premium cabins. Some of those are finally reversing this week. Meals are still pre-packaged, but the quality and variety is notably improved based on the images teased for the new offerings. Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines similarly are restoring some previously cut catering levels.
But among the airlines rules and polices are yet to harmonize. In new Zealand a lack of cases should make it easier to increase flight loads and resume normal operations. But Air New Zealand is taking a slightly more cautious approach, with middle seats blocked for a while. That’s gone now, however.
In Australia Qantas is similarly not blocking middle seats nor requiring masks on passengers.
In Europe and North America policies are generally more strict, though compliance proves a challenge. Several US carriers announced a mask requirement, but are not requiring compliance. Even the decision to block middle seats or not remains varied, with JetBlue and Delta Air Lines the two main carriers still holding on to that policy, at least a little while longer. JetBlue committed to that policy through July while Delta committed through September.
How will the recovery fare?
Through all the changes, the ups and downs, the variety of services and offerings and options a major question remains: Will the trends hold? Will passenger numbers continue to rise? Will business travel return this Fall as the summer leisure market wanes? Will airfares begin to rise as demand does, allowing airlines to maybe eke out something resembling a profit along the way?
And also, Will the outbreak spread anew? Should countries wait for full eradication before opening borders? How quickly can they clamp down again as hotspots flare up?
Definitely still too early to say, but at least there’s some reason for optimism in the industry. That’s a very welcome change, even if it remains limited right now.