As Mother Nature enjoyed a respite from our ceaseless travels thanks to measures imposed during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, grounded airlines jettisoned jobs and leaned on governments for bailouts, while Zoom became a household name.
Virgin Australia slumped into administration but was due to be back in the skies in the summer, with 10% stakeholder Sir Richard Branson reportedly game to put up $200-250 million to achieve this. The billionaire had drawn flak for asking the UK government for a £500-million loan to prop up Virgin Atlantic – which the Treasury rejected.
At the budget end of the airline industry, where business means a consistently full passenger load, Ryanair’s head Michael O’Leary dismissed onboard social distancing proposals as daft.
Emirates Airline, meanwhile, distinguished itself by continuing to put out advertising, which was centred around reassurance.
This campaign offers visual reassurance by showing protective clothing, testing before boarding, temperature scans at airports, and so on. Do you find it reassuring? Or are you thinking that if this is the future of air travel, it’s pretty unappealing?
Many people believe such measures should have been immediate, common-sense actions for all airlines and airports. As one Londoner working in food retail – i.e. a very busy person serving the public all day – said: “How are we supposed to take measures on the ground seriously when we can see from our smartphones that the skies are still crowded with ‘planes full of thousands of people sharing the same air in a confined space? It’s a joke.”
“Did they show any cleaning of the air conditioning units?” questioned one seasoned traveller. “You can pick up really bad infections on long flights, yet the filter systems are never talked about.
“But it’s good to have expectations about what air travel should be like. Ads like this are a start.”
As well as a Labour Day ad thanking all its employers (image above), Emirates put out a campaign that reassured in a very different way by focusing on our emotions and predicting a time when we’ll look back on COVID-19 under the slogan ’Do You Remember?’.
Meanwhile, popular carrier EasyJet’s directors incurred the wrath of its founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, for securing a £600-million loan from the British government’s coronavirus programme while retaining a £4.5-billion contract with Airbus for 100 new ‘planes.
Using taxpayers’ money this way while ‘planes are grounded, said Sir Stelios, “could be the biggest scandal in British corporate history”.
The Cypriot, whose family owns a third of EasyJet, pointed out that even once air travel does get off the ground again, it will be a cautious affair with changed expectations all round, and that EasyJet will likely run out of money by year’s end despite the loan unless it changes course.
Remote is real
As many of us reassessed our ‘need’ to travel and began to realise the boon of clean air to tackle climate change and restore the planet’s health, video technology provider Zoom stepped in as international boardroom and gathering-place for friends/families.
And for those who travel for ‘non-essential’ reasons but are conscious of the need for sustainable tourism, another remote possibility was mooted by the remote Faroe Islands, whose tourism board offered an app for homebound travellers the chance ‘to remotely explore one of the most beautiful and pristine places on the planet… from the comfort of one’s home.’
Even if your home is not comfortable, this has to appeal, right?
Tighten your seatbelt…
Whatever our individual COVID-19 coronavirus experience, lockdown measures worldwide have proved an enlightening exercise in mass cooperation.
Environmental benefits such as massively reduced air pollution could show the way to a greener post-pandemic recovery as corporate social responsibility and personal responsibility eye each other in a new way.
(New Delhi, October 2019/April 2020, detail from Guardian report https://bit.ly/2W6zoBR)
Time for the airlines themselves, as well as the passengers, to tighten their belts?