Since coronavirus arrived on the scene, hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs and an innumerable number of small and large business have been crushed financially.
For nearly twenty years, I worked in the airline industry, and it’s devasting to talk to my friends who still do. My old co-workers and I are a tight bunch, and most of us are aviation nerds. A few of them sent me pics of items they have on their desks or bookshelves.
Like many other sectors, demand for the service airlines provide evaporated virtually overnight. According to the TSA, the number of people traveling by plane has dropped by about 96% amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When we do return to the skies after all of this, I’m guessing flying will look and feel different than it did pre-coronavirus. Some of my predictions:
No more middle seats. While I’m sure few will shed a tear at their demise, the removal of the middle seat would have at least one major drawback. Flying might get a lot more expensive, becoming a luxury even fewer can afford. Fewer seats, means higher fares. There’s a reason why flying first class is so expensive.
There’s a very good chance many airlines will die during this pandemic too. In fact, a few have already folded. When this pandemic is over, many businesses may have neither the money nor the inkling to send their employees traveling like they did before. And there may be fewer places for road warriors to go. It could be awhile before people feel comfortable at large gatherings, a conference or trade show, for example. This would spell disaster for most airlines. Business travelers are their bread and butter. Fewer airlines equals less competition, which of course could translate into higher fares as well.
It’s also possible the days of the super-sized double decker Airbus A-380 may be numbered. The monster plane was in trouble before coronavirus hit, and now the thought of stepping foot on a plane with 500+ seats seems downright terrifying, to put it mildly.
For those who aren’t familiar with the A380, it’s huge (as the photo above attests). It has two full-length decks of passenger seating. It has more seats than any other aircraft.
Here’s a chart comparing the size of a 747 to an A380. As you can see, the 747 is actually longer than the A380, but remember the A380 is a double decker, just like buses in London.
While no airline currently operates an A380 with an all-coach configuration (a thought that makes me shudder), Emirates flies an A380 with a 615-seat layout, an arrangement they refer to as ‘high density’. I’ll say.
When the A-380 prepared to enter commercial service fifteen short years ago, I remember thinking the plane was super cool. I couldn’t wait to see one and dreamed about flying on one someday. At the time, I worked at a consulting firm that advised airports. We forecasted future demand, developed noise models, and devised master plans. Stuff that might put a lot of people to sleep, but I loved it.
Back then, airports were trying to figure out how they were going to accommodate the new A-380. Think about it. A plane with 500+ passengers. That’s a lot of people wanting to get on or off all at once. Airports had to reconfigure terminals, including:
- Gates. There needed to be enough seats and ticket counters.
- Baggage claims. More passengers, means more bags and more anxious travelers crowded around the baggage carrousel.
- Jet bridges. One feeding the upper deck and one feeding the lower deck, and maybe a third one for good measure.
- Immigration and customs. As if the lines aren’t bad enough!
Airports also had to make sure the A380 could safely navigate the airfield. Some taxiways couldn’t accommodate them because they were simply too big.
If the A380 disappears from commercial passenger service (it may stick around as a cargo plane), I’ll miss catching a glimpse of it at various airports around the world. I only flew on one a single time (FRA-DXB), and even though there were a lot of people on board, it did feel roomier than any other aircraft I’ve ever been on. And if you’re lucky enough to fly business or first, the A380 offers some pretty cool amenities like private suites, a bar/lounge, and some even have showers.
If airlines stop packing us in like sardines perhaps, we’ll return to the glamour days of flying. The days when people actually got dressed up to fly, and free hot meals were served to all passengers on board. And I’m not talking about those little tin foil wrapped meals, I’m talking the real deal. According to this photo filled articleabout the golden days of flying, British Airway’s flight attendants used to hand-carve entire hams in flight! Imagine that.
Of course, there are certain aspects of the old days that I’d rather didn’t make a resurgence.
Smoking. I’d take a middle seat any day over sitting on a plane clouded with smoke.
Sexual discrimination. Back in the day, many stewardesses, as flight attendants were called then, faced mandatory retirement by 32. If they married or became pregnant, they were out. According to this article, in 1966, a New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements: “A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5’2” but no more than 5’9,” weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses.”
Layovers/refueling. According to their website, Qantas began offering overseas flights in 1935 using DH-86 aircraft. Service between Brisbane and Singapore took three and a half days. Today Qantas serves that route with an Airbus A330 and the trip takes just over eight hours, or at least it will when Qantas starts flying the route again after the threat of coronavirus eases.
Fun fact (and I have to admit, I did not know this), Qantas stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd (Q.A.N.T.A.S).
One other fun fact, the Dutch airline KLM (an airline I used to work for) holds the title of the world’s oldest continuously operating airline. It started service between London and Amsterdam in 1919. Qantas started a year later, in 1920.
Given I’m an airline nerd, it’s not surprisingly that my latest book, Fare Game, has an aviation theme. It’s a about an airline executive who blows the whistle on a massive price fixing scheme. There’s a little romance in there too.
This blog was also recently published on Women and Words.