How Airlines are adapting to this ‘new normal’, one mile at a time

The Human Experience (HX)
6 min readJul 9, 2020


Source: Shutterstock

It’s shocking to think that a virus — a microscopic particle that is invisible to the naked eye — was successfully able to put the entire world on hold. While there have been many industries facing the wrath of this ‘invisible enemy’, as borders closed, travel came to a halt and people huddled in their homes for several months at a time. It is no surprise therefore that this resulted in devastating losses for Airlines in particular — an industry already notorious for its low profitability.

It’s safe to say that airlines and airports around the world will need to have a ‘Covid-19 makeover’, creating a different travel experience and taking on a whole host of new challenges head on; how will passengers be seated and in-flight services managed? how do crew members greet with warm welcomes whilst dressed in PPE? and with elements of ‘luxury’ stripped back for safety and financial reasons, will a Business or First Class experience ever feel the same?

Source: Shutterstock

With the news of the Pakistan International Airlines crash in late May illustrated, it is not simply consumers who are fearful of the risk that Covid represents. The pilots of the plane that crashed in Pakistan, killing 98 people, were pre-occupied by the coronavirus crisis and tried to land with the aircraft’s wheels still up, according to initial official reports. As such, with airline staff already grappling with the responsibilities of ensuring customer safety, enjoyment and comfort, how will this added layer of Covid complexity impact the way they’re able to deliver the service?

So, this week, we thought we’d take a look at 3 airlines responding and adapting to these challenges to cater to people who are both itching to get away or return home but seeking reassurance to reduce feelings of anxiety that come with travelling in the midst (and wake) of a global pandemic.

Alaska Airlines have got you covered

There’s no doubt that wearing a face mask for the duration of a flight can be an uncomfortable endeavour, but with almost all airlines and airports making this mandatory, it’s time to embrace this ‘new normal’ as we look to travel once more.

Source: Alaska Airlines Blog

Alaska Airlines has made this explicitly clear and communicated its commitment to the safety of its ‘guests’, but recent encounters with customers resisting and challenging the face mask mandate whilst on-board have resulted in the company taking inspiration from the world of football to help deescalate tensions in the air. Those who don’t abide by this rule will now be issued a ‘yellow card’ — a ‘notice’ given to the uncooperative passenger, used as a tool to help file a report and potentially suspend them from future Alaska Airline flights.

Despite this unfortunate necessity, the brand has demonstrated that it can still bring a sense of positivity through it’s earlier attempt to help customers bring holidays to their homes with ‘destination backgrounds’ for Zoom and its recent ‘mind your wingspan’ social distancing signs at airports, adding a touch of light heartedness and ‘human’ tone of voice during this unsettling time.

Source: Alaska Airlines Blog

Emirates efficiency

One of the most ‘proactive’ airlines, Emirates, has introduced a number of strict practices and safety measures to reassure conscious customers. These have been taken to such an extent that all passengers must now carry a ‘negative’ Covid-19 certificate, taken within 96 hours before flying, to be accepted onboard.

Alternatively, Dubai Airport has developed rapid covid-19 testing facilities on-site, offering all passengers and staff from ‘low risk’ countries to get their negative certificate requirements on-site, in just 10 minutes.

Source: Emirates

All customers are also handed a complimentary ‘Travel Hygiene Kit’ containing a mask, gloves, sanitiser and wipes designed to give them ‘peace of mind’ for their journey, and like many other airlines, boarding is staggered so people sit on their socially distanced seats one row at a time, to avoid people crowding together.

British Airways box meals

British Airways is another example of a Covid-casualty that has faced financial struggles and recent heat over staff redundancies in an effort for survival.

Source: British Airways

Known to provide excellent Business and First-Class experiences, the company has had to make changes to its services to tighten expenses and lessen the risks of transmission. Luxurious and tasty restaurant-style dishes previously presented to passengers on white tablecloths and Wedgwood crockery have now been temporarily replaced by an ‘enhanced catering proposition’ where all meals are pre-packaged into boxes, sealed for safety and to reduce physical contact with the crew.

To add to this, alcohol sales will be suspended in short-haul economy, and similar to other airlines, magazines, newspapers and in-flight safety manuals will be unavailable for passengers to use. The airline has, however, made it easier for customers by preparing a step by step check-list, welcoming passengers back and offering light-touch guidance to help them travel during the Covid era.

Source: Shutterstock

The HX Learnings

With borders reopening and people stepping out of their comfort zones to take to the skies once again, consumers will look towards airlines to help them feel safe and reassured as the excitement of travel becomes tinged with fears and micro-anxieties.

As airlines redesign and adapt, it’s also important for them to consider how to maintain a sense of warmth, hospitality and clarity with fewer opportunities for ‘personal interactions’, and ways to easily restore their ability to feel in control of their health and wellbeing, despite the circumstances.

It is no longer enough for airlines to simply get passengers from point A to point B, they are now responsible for the health and safety of those people that call point B their home, and this is a pressure that many will be unfamiliar with.

Though stewardesses have long worn two hats — as both providers of a service and enforcers of safety regulations — these increased checks and balances may force them to over index on the latter in a far more deliberate way. But it is doing this in a human-first, empathetic way that will ensure consumers keep coming back.

Neha Ahmed is a senior consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in Business & Management, she has worked at IBM in global resource management and is fascinated by culture, human psychology and social enterprise.



The Human Experience (HX)

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