Just as 9/11 caused a drastic change in airport security management, the Coronavirus pandemic will cause disruption in international aviation.
One of the changes will be the middle seat in the row of three chairs that normally make up the economy class.
One possible way forward is to continue blocking the middle seat, which U.S. airlines, including United, American, Alaska, and Delta, are doing on a temporary basis. (Most of the carriers say they will reassess around summertime.)
But air travel experts say that those regulations are likely to last for longer, helping passengers feel comfortable but creating a significant financial snag for already ailing airlines.
“One of the challenges ensuing from this crisis will be passenger willingness to travel, so it has to be a major focus of attention for airlines to tackle this whilst remaining commercially viable,” says U.K.-based airline consultant John Strickland, told Conde Nast Traveler, the luxury and lifestyle travel magazine.
Other measures we can expect to see are temperature measurement for passengers, changes in the way food is served onboard, strict cleaning of surfaces and enhanced aircraft hygiene requirements post-COVID-19, that most experts say we can expect to see them for the long haul.
Jay Shabat, senior analyst at travel industry publication Skift said: “After 9/11, you had all of these new security requirements and regulations just to make sure the aircraft was secure, Now you kind of would expect that to make the aircraft secure from a health perspective, there would be all these new health regulations.”
One of the challenges of the airlines will be that travelers regain confidence to board planes, where social distancing is more complicated.
Most in the industry agree that it’s paramount that the airlines address the public’s health fears by retaining their new safety measures. “One of the challenges ensuing from this crisis will be passenger willingness to travel, so it has to be a major focus of attention for airlines to tackle this whilst remaining commercially viable,” says Strickland. “The difficulty in achieving this cannot be underestimated.”
As airlines are required to provide more space between passengers, which is very difficult to do and turn a profit, Shabat says, “When the time comes that people want to fly again, there’s no way that airlines can make money unless they pack them in like sardines. That’s the whole business model. That’s worked over the last 10 or 15 years.”