After a year like 2020, it’s a safe bet to say that air travel will never be the same again. In an industry that was impacted at every level, countless changes have already occurred in order for airlines to adapt and survive.
There’s also renewed hope that the outbreak could soon wind down: Federal officials have approved a vaccine, and as of Monday, the first dose was administered in the U.S., kicking off a months-long campaign to inoculate the majority of the population. U.S. airlines, too, have already begun the complicated process of distributing the vaccines throughout the country. Even so, the ripples of this crisis will still be felt by both fliers and air carriers for years to come.
Here’s a look at what the future of air travel holds—next year and beyond.
1. Long-haul flights will see new innovations
From virus-sniffing dogs in airports to new apps that process travelers’ COVID-19 information and contact-tracing from airlines, the air travel industry is getting creative in order to restart long-haul flights. Delta, for one, is set to restart flights to Europe with a new test regimen, while new apps will make vaccination status and test results easier for border officials to read.
2. Business travel will get a reboot
One of the most important parts of airlines’ recoveries will be winning back business travelers. But this valuable sector of passengers won’t settle for the same old premium cabin. Before they get back onto planes, business fliers want to see major adjustments like seats that are more spacious and private, fare classes with added perks, and lenient loyalty program policies—to name a few. ADVERTISEMENT
3. Vaccines are already making a difference
A vaccine is on the horizon, and travelers are already feeling more optimistic about flying next year: Flight search site Skyscanner reported that U.S. bookings for economy round-trip flights jumped up 9 percent on the heels of the first positive vaccine news. Airline CEOs, including those at Qantas Airways and Delta, have already hinted that they will soon require their passengers to be inoculated before flying.
4. New planes will change the airline experience
As post-pandemic recovery starts to take shape, experts say that the established trend of airlines eschewing larger double-decker planes, like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, will accelerate. Instead, carriers are opting for more nimble and efficient jets—and even investing in some futuristic designs like a “blended wing” aircraft. Smaller planes won’t mean less comfort: Expect to see wider seats, larger windows that are able to dim, and more spacious overhead bins.
5. Family travelers will determine airlines’ newest destinations
Among the few reliable air passengers this year? Diaspora populations visiting relatives. What started as demand for specially coordinated repatriation flights for those stranded abroad amid the unfurling COVID-19 crisis became the inspiration for lucrative new international routes. Now, carriers around the globe are shaping new route launches around this demographic: places like New Delhi, Accra, Brisbane, Bangalore, and Lagos are just a few of the destinations airlines have added to their maps so far.
6. Booking will remain flexible
Passengers have been afforded more flexibility during the crisis—and they will be loathe to give it up down the line. Fortunately, U.S. airlines seem to have already recognized this fact and have gone to work nixing inconvenient change and cancellation fees. Flying standby on the same day and putting frequent flier miles back into loyalty accounts are becoming free benefits, too. But the jury is still out on whether seat selection or baggage fees will see the chopping block.WATCHA Night in São PauloMORE CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER VIDEOShttps://44c47a3706d00e164b4780e6755b82b5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENThttps://44c47a3706d00e164b4780e6755b82b5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
7. Medical care will be available at the airport
While COVID-19 testing in airports is becoming more and more ubiquitous, experts believe that the trend of medical clinics at the airport will outlast the virus. “For international travel in the future when you need to have your vaccinations and take meds if you’re going on safari in Africa, [fliers will] be able to come to the airport and have that as part of your routine,” says Doug Satzman, CEO of airport spa chain XpresSpa, which pivoted to offering COVID-19 screenings and antibody tests over the summer. “It’s really a completely missing category in airports. We think we are at the forefront of creating a whole new industry of travel health and wellness.”