Airlines’ Initiatives in Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on airlines all around the world. Experts predict that its impact on the aviation industry will be felt for several years to come. To survive this crisis, these companies have had to make drastic changes. While some airlines, including LATAM, have had to file for bankruptcy, others succeeded in adapting to the circumstances and are slowly starting to recover. Here is a summary of the initiatives taken by three major North American companies that remain operational during the crisis: Air Canada, WestJet and Delta Air Lines.
One of the first initiatives taken by Air Canada in response to this health crisis was the CleanCare+ program, presented on May 4th and still in effect, which highlights that the airline is "committed to end-to-end health and safety protocols” . New preventative health and safety measures include, among other things, taking passengers’ temperatures, providing a free personal care kit provided to all passengers, and the frequent disinfection of surfaces. Masks are also mandatory on all flights. The physical distancing measure of blocking adjacent seats in economy class, however, ended in July.
Air Canada has also adjusted the terms of Altitude status and Aeroplan miles to make them more flexible temporarily. The Altitude status for 2020 has been automatically renewed for 2021. In addition, it is now possible to share it with another person and to progress in the status by donating Aeroplan miles to charities. The expiration of Aeroplan miles is suspended. Altitude members also have access to additional eUpgrade credits.
When it comes to customer service, a considerable effort has been made to reduce physical contact. Among other things, check-in is now contactless and virtual queues have been set up. Maple Leaves Lounges have been closed for several months and are now reopening gradually, with new biosecurity protocols, which include the use of electrostatic sprayers and the disappearance of buffets (replaced by prepackaged meals).
WestJet has also introduced more stringent precautionary measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Details of its program emphasizing “safety above all” were announced in June. The new measures include reducing contact at check-in, taking the temperature of all travellers, regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces, the fogging of airplanes (a disinfection technique) and more. However, like Air Canada, WestJet ended its physical distancing measure consisting of leaving the middle seats vacant a few months after its inception.
WestJet has also made several changes to its rewards program to provide more flexibility to its members. For example, expiring status levels have been extended. The validity period of companion vouchers has also been extended. The Chinook Lounge at the Calgary International Airport is temporarily closed, and lounge access benefits are suspended.
Delta Air Lines
In a Business Insider article published in July 2020, a reporter compared the four major U.S. carriers (Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines) to determine which one was handling the crisis best, with particular emphasis on security measures put in place as well as the overall experience. Delta won first place. The writer mentions that the company has managed to adapt all stages of the traveller's experience to this new reality while not compromising the service too much, as justification for this victory.
In collaboration with Lysol, Delta has introduced CareStandard, its cleaning and distancing protocols program, which aims, among other things, to keep surfaces clean and disinfected, to give more space to travellers to ensure physical distance, and personal care every step of the way, from check-in to baggage claim. Kits including a disposable mask and hand sanitizer are given to the travellers. Unlike Air Canada and WestJet, seats adjacent to passenger seats are expected to remain empty on most Delta aircrafts through the end of September.
As for the SkyMiles loyalty program, 2020 Medallion status of members has been automatically extended for one year, which is also the case for Delta 360° members. The MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles) will be postponed for one year for qualification for the 2022 Medallion status. Some of the Delta Sky Clubs lounges have reopened under strict measures involving distancing and cleaning to ensure customer safety. Membership access to these clubs has also been extended for 6 months .
In conclusion, the airlines that have best adapted to the crisis have focused their efforts on safety. In early July, the world's three largest airline alliances, Sky Team (of which Delta is a member), Star Alliance (of which Air Canada is a member) and Oneworld, joined forces to present a video outlining the security in place so that their customers can travel with confidence. The new measures adopted are very likely to remain in place on the long term. If you are interested in learning more about the air traveller's experience during COVID-19, we invite you to read our article describing our field trip to the Montreal-Trudeau Airport on July 8th. Plus, stay tuned to learn more about the experience of flying during the pandemic in an article that will be available soon!
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