The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the travel industry, with South Africa being one of the hardest hit countries after further travel bans were recently imposed due to the Omicron variant.
The way people travel will never be the same. New regulations issued by the South African Government now require passengers to present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 72 hours prior to their departure, airlines disposing of inflight magazines, and increased safety measures at the airport taking up more time, forcing passengers to be at check-in earlier than usual.
These are a few examples of how COVID-19 has changed air travel – but it’s also had a much bigger impact than just changing the basics. It has accelerated digital transformation across the industry, creating more opportunities for airlines to enhance their offerings, streamline operations and redefine the customer experience.
A safer airport experience
Although the airline sector has always been a leader in safety, particularly post-9/11, COVID-19 has stimulated even greater innovation in the past year as airports strive to improve passenger safety and security using digital tools, automation, and efficiency aids.
More airports are using air cleaning and filtration systems – which were previously only found in hospitals and other healthcare environments – to reduce the spread of disease. For instance, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has stepped up its safety measures to protect the health of those who work at and use the airport. It has deployed 13 autonomous cleaning robots for floor and carpet cleaning, sterilisation of toilets and key operating areas in the terminal. Singapore’s Changi Airport has installed new air purifiers fitted with hospital-grade High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters to enhance the indoor air quality for passengers in its terminal buildings.
The sector has also seen a growing number of temperature screening devices at airport entrances to minimise potential exposure. Cape Town International Airport has been using this thermal technology for over a year to instantly read passengers’ temperature as they pass in front of a camera. An alarm goes off if a person’s temperature is higher than normal, potentially indicating infection.
Digitised airline operations
Digitisation has become a non-negotiable in the airline industry because of the growing need for healthier and safer travel. Airlines and airports have responded to this need by reimagining the passenger processing flow and enhancing the passenger experience using biometric technologies to create a contactless, self-service passenger journey.
For example, Cathay Pacific recently introduced contactless boarding at Hong Kong International Airport to minimise contact during check-in and boarding and safeguard passenger wellbeing. The airline’s e-Boarding system uses biometric technology to scan passengers' faces, making the entire boarding process completely contactless, touch-free, fast, and straightforward.
In some instances, the journey begins before passengers even arrive at the airport – some airlines allow passengers to upload their COVID-19 test results for verification and even pre-order meals before boarding, like Cathay Pacific's Choose My Meal programme.
The future of air travel
The airline industry has been on a digitisation journey for some time now, however it's now accelerating its efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and promote safer air travel.
As these digital innovations progress, we can expect air travel in future to offer passengers a more enhanced travel experience and access to even more travel information. Airlines are introducing 24-hour live chat features and dedicated WhatsApp chat features that can seamlessly offer customer support, and also share information that passengers need to know about their destinations – in particular the latest insights into COVID-19 incidence and related restrictions.
Passengers stand to benefit significantly from airlines embracing digital innovation at an accelerated pace – helping them feel safer and more supported every step of their journey.