The aviation industry has seen and overcome countless challenges and crises over time. Challenges are no strangers to the hyper-competitive world of aviation – fluctuating fuel prices, wafer-thin profit margins and economic downturns have often played spoilsport to the industry’s ambitious growth plans. What makes the industry stand out is its sheer resilience – it emerged successfully from some of the most turbulent times such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
However, the coronavirus pandemic caught the aviation industry off guard – demand for international travel came down to zero, thousands were laid off, and several airlines filed for bankruptcy. Airlines went into a cash-saving mode, trying to reduce costs as much as possible – several superjumbo aircraft types such as the Boeing 747-400 and the Airbus A380 were abruptly sent off to long term storage or retired owing to overcapacity and high maintenance costs. Several aircraft were parked on taxiways and runways at some of the world’s busiest airports.
FLYING MADE SAFER
The single biggest deterrent to people looking to fly is the fear of contracting the infection. The results of a recent survey conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) illustrate this very clearly: 84% of all respondents were afraid to travel until the virus was contained. They were extremely concerned about sitting next to someone who might be infected and about touching hard surfaces like the tray tables and armrests. Another major concern was regarding the air quality in the cabins. Not unsurprisingly, most of the participants stated that they would travel only if it was absolutely necessary, such as an urgent business trip. They also stated that they were reducing travel as much as possible and cancelling trips that were deemed unimportant.
Airlines and airports across the world have risen to the occasion by addressing all the above concerns with absolute priority being given to passenger safety. Planes are being thoroughly disinfected after every flight and utmost importance is given to high-contact areas like seats, seatbelts, toilets, air vents and overhead lockers. Airlines are now providing passengers with a PPE kit consisting of masks, gloves, a face shield and disinfecting wipes. Contactless check-in and payments are the norm, and airports have painted social distancing markers at queues and waiting areas.
CONVINCING THE PASSENGER
The industry had an extremely important task at hand: to convince and assure the passengers about the safety of flying. Airlines’ marketing strategies had changed entirely to keep up with times – safety had moved to the forefront of all marketing content, while all other aspects took the backseat. Social media handles were filled with videos and photos of cleaning staff thoroughly disinfecting the aircrafts in the hope of driving home that flying was absolutely safe. Airlines also stated that many of their aircraft are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove nearly 99.99% of all contaminants from cabin air thus making it absolutely safe to breathe.
Airlines have also come up with some interesting and innovative marketing campaigns aimed at quelling passengers’ fears – from IndiGo’s “Lean Clean Flying Machine” to Vistara’s “Flying Feels Safe Again” and the like. Airlines also offered discounts and free tickets to the frontline warriors such as doctors and nurses, recognising their immense sacrifices and contributions made in fighting the pandemic. AirAsia India’s RedPass initiative is giving away 50,000 free seats across its domestic sectors, and IndiGo’s Tough Cookie discount entitles discounts up to 25% for doctors and nurses.
MASK ON, CORONAVIRUS GONE!
As the popular saying goes ‘Prevention is better than cure’, our best bet right now is to take all precautionary measures to protect ourselves as well as those around us from the virus. At the time of writing, vaccines for COVID- 19 are still under development and no vaccine has made it to the markets yet, and the best shield that we have against the clutches of the novel coronavirus is the humble face mask.
However, it is not as simple as simply donning a mask and letting our guard down, assuming that it would make us invincible – mask etiquette is as important as the mask itself. Without proper etiquette, the whole purpose of wearing a mask stands defeated. Here are some tips to ensure proper mask etiquette:
· Wash your hands before putting on your mask.
· Ensure the proper side of the mask faces outwards.
· Secure the mask strings tightly while making sure that you can breathe easily.
· Make sure you cover both your nose and your mouth! A lot of people fail to cover their nose properly which increases the risk of passing on the infection to people around them.
· Wear reusable cloth/fabric masks. They are more eco-friendly than their single-use counterparts. Leave the single-use surgical masks and the N-95 masks to the medical professionals – they need it the most.
· Do not touch the front portion of the mask as it might be contaminated with the virus.
· Remove the mask carefully using its handles without touching the front portion.
· If you are using a reusable cloth mask, wash the mask with soap and hot water and dry the mask completely after each use.
· Do not remove your mask while you are having a conversation! Wear your mask at all times to protect yourself as well as those around you from potential infection.
· Single-use masks, as the name suggests is strictly for one-time use only. Dispose them safely after use. Do not wash and reuse single-use masks.
A lot of the above stated tips might seem very simple, but they are often the difference between life and death. At the same time, there is absolutely no need to panic – if we all work together and take proper preventive measures, we can definitely reach the light at the end of the tunnel!