Lounge access, business-class seats, direct flights: Travellers ready to pay more to ensure safety during pandemic

Contactless check-in services, flexi booking are some of the other recent aviation sector trends.

The current ecosystem is encouraging several customers to opt for premium cabins [premium economy/business class] or to book additional seats.
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As borders open up and restrictions ease, more people are getting comfortable with the idea of flying again. Air travel in the time of coronavirus brings with it a heightened focus on hygiene, and social distancing continues to be a key concern. For airlines, this means that people are not only willing to pay more for business or first-class seats, but lounge access and chauffeur services have also seen an uptick.

Learning to fly
“According to a survey commissioned by Priority Pass, fliers see the airport lounge as a high value service, with seven out of 10 travellers willing to pay to access it. A majority of travellers (57 per cent) plan to use their airport lounge access more than they did before the pandemic,” says Priyanka Lakhani, commercial director, Middle East and Africa, and director, South Asia, Collinson Group.

Jabr Al-Azeeby, vice-president, India & Nepal, Emirates, adds, “Apart from business and first-class seats, our lounge and chauffeur services also continue to be in demand.”

Ready for take-off
Neerja Bhatia, vice-president, Indian Subcontinent, Etihad Airways, says that while it is still early to conclude, early signs have shown a higher demand for business and first class. And the longer the f light, the more likely will fliers be to book premium tickets.

Vinod Kannan, chief commercial officer, Vistara, adds, “The current ecosystem is encouraging several customers to opt for premium cabins [premium economy/business class] or to book additional seats. Compared to domestic sectors, there is definitely a higher demand for premium cabins on international routes, including on long-haul flights.”

Economic upgrade
However, given that the industry is still not functioning at full capacity, flights are relatively spacious. So, even if you are flying economy, you can be assured of some social distancing.

“Our flights are quieter now than pre-pandemic, so we are also able to space passengers out and implement distancing onboard. We have reshaped the travel experience end-to-end, to ensure safety and comfort of passengers. We implement social distancing measures at boarding, and where possible, onboard too,” says Alex McEwan, country manager, India, Virgin Atlantic.

Bhatia adds that there are options on board for those not looking to book premium tickets. “Passengers can bid on up to three extra empty seats adjacent to their booked seat. If the bid is won, the extra seats will remain vacant for the duration of the passenger’s journey,” she says.

Up in the air
With organisations largely continuing to use virtual meetings, most passengers are choosing to fly for leisure. And with the festive season approaching, several airlines have seen an increase in bookings. “A lot of bookings are from customers who are looking to reunite with friends and family after being separated for long periods of time,” says McEwan.

Contactless check-in services, flexi booking and cancellation, and direct flights to long-haul destinations are some of the other recent aviation sector trends. “For example, the number of people who checked-in online was about 20- 30 per cent pre-Covid-19, which has now increased to almost 90 to 95 per cent. Going forward, technology will play an increasingly crucial role in ensuring touch less travel experience,” Kannan adds.
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