April 23, 2024

U.S. airlines unite to build confidence

By Bev Fearis, published 15/05/20

U.S. airlines are working together to ensure new COVID-19 safety measures instil confidence among travellers to fly again.

Bob Somers, Senior Vice President Global Sales for Delta Air Lines, said while airlines are unable to cooperate on certain aspects of their business – such as pricing – they are able to work collaboratively on operational safety.

Speaking via a live video link at this week’s virtual ITM conference, he said: “There will be variations from carrier to carrier with regards to DNA, culture, and business etiquette, but there will be some consistent baseline measures because otherwise we won’t have an industry.”

He added: “This also applies to hotels, conference venues, car rental and all other sectors. They will need to work together, not in isolation.”

Somers said US airlines were also working closely with industry bodies, such as IATA and A4A (Airlines for America), and with governments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation.

Like other airlines, Delta has introduced a number of new safety measures, including keeping the middle seat blocked, the mandatory wearing of masks or face coverings and new cleaning regimes.

“I don’t think anyone in the airline business thought we would use the word ‘clean’ as much as we do now,” he said. “The word ‘safety’ no longer applies to flight safety, now it’s about personal safety. Flying is still the safest from of transportation in the world.”

Somers said load factors were currently 25%-30% but added: “No-one’s thinking about pricing right now. We’re thinking about the near-term issue and that’s building confidence.”

He said passengers quickly adapted to new security measures brought in following the 9/11 terror attacks and believes it will be the same with any changes brought in to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Also at the conference, American Airlines President Robert Isom told buyers the airline is surveying frequent flyers on a weekly basis, tracking sentiment to establish what will give customers the confidence to fly again.

American Airlines is currently operating 80% less capacity and Isom admitted it was difficult to predict the recovery. “You use your best guess to see how demand is going to rebound and have a schedule to fit this,” he said.

On pricing he added: “As demand returns, there’s going to be the opportunity for some great deals. We all have our recovery ahead of us and it will take time to make sure that American is in the markets where we have the best product offering and we can competitively offer what customers want. Travel has been a real bargain for a number of years and is only becoming more and more efficient, so I see that continuing in the future.”