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Future of air travel – getting us moving and meeting again

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According to a recent poll of ICCA members – 60% of association planners feel that digital event solutions are simply not as effective as face to face events.  This presents a significant opportunity and drive to restart events as soon as possible.  However, global travel restrictions remain a barrier for many and even when they are eased and lifted there are still many concerns about the safety of flying.  
 
A recent ICCA panel debate featuring Stephen Aulds from SkyTeam Alliance, Pierre Charbonneau from the International Air Transportation Association and Edward Hollo from SkyTeam Alliance explored the issue of flying in the future.  The discussion ranged from the theory of safe travel and the ethos of the industry through to simple and practical expectations moving forward.  The full discussion can be seen in the webinar recording (available to ICCA Members only – Find “2020-06-18 ICCA Global Conversations: Future of Aviation & Air Travel-Safety and Customer Confidence” in the My ICCA Portal: https://portal.iccaworld.org/webinar-recordings/). 
 
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the whole discussion was Stephen’s point that “safety is a hallmark of the aviation industry and everything is built on that foundation”.  He pointed out that safety evolves and changes; the airline industry has had to react to many historic adjustments to ensure it remains the safest form of transport and the impact of COVID-19 will be no different.  Whether it is adjustments to the technology running the planes that few passengers are aware of; or anti-terror measures prevalent throughout airports the world over, the industry has always focused on putting customer safety first.
 
Pierre agreed and said we will have to all consider “a new way of travelling, where we work together to minimise risk.”  He also pointed out that there is no silver bullet capable of returning travel to pre-COVID levels and systems.  Instead, we all need to work together and communicate more effectively than ever before.  As Edward added: “this is an opportunity for aviation and meetings industries to move close.”  Relationships will change and ICCA members have a chance to talk more and provide cohesive balanced solutions to the many challenges ahead.
 
As part of this it is clear that whilst the greatest burden in terms of risk mitigation with lie with the airlines, airports and their commercial partners; there will also be a need for significant support from passengers.  In fact, it is the passengers who need to make the very first decision – are they healthy enough to leave home and travel in the first place?
 
The aviation industry is working closely with governments the world over to ensure restrictions only remain in place for as long as is necessary.  It is in everyone’s best interest to balance the dangers of COVID with economic recovery and the significant impact that can be achieved when people meet face to face.  The changes and restrictions will mean ongoing impacts for travellers, but it is also worth noting that the actual experience of being onboard and flying is relatively low risk in terms of transmission.
 
Safe travel experiences going forward will become more about process than ever before.  Whether it is leaving the home, travel to the airport, check-in, boarding, in flight arrival at the destination or onward travel; each step will need to be carefully considered.  There are a wide range of measures over every stage of the journey, full details of which can be seen on the recorded version of the webinar (available to ICCA Members only – Find “2020-06-18 ICCA Global Conversations: Future of Aviation & Air Travel-Safety and Customer Confidence” in the My ICCA Portal: https://portal.iccaworld.org/webinar-recordings/) but there are several key points worth highlighting.
 
• Masks will become the norm for travellers.  Around the world, governments are mandating their use as is the aviation industry.  From passengers to airline and airport staff we will see them through every stage of the journey.
 
• Biometrics, self service and touchless will become normal as people go about their journeys, using the latest technology to avoid contact with others at every stage.  For meetings this will easily fall in line with initiatives being put in place by venues and destinations around the world.  The self-service principal will also see a significant increase in the pre-airport check in process and could even include at home bag-tag printing.
 
• Airports are going to look very different and there will also be a significant rise in “controlled queuing”.    Throughout airports there are key points where passengers tend to bottle neck – obvious examples being security and boarding.  A range of new measures will be implemented to manage this – one for example could be a significant reduction in allowable hand-luggage.  Few people think about it but boarding and disembarking is significantly slowed by all the passenger seeking space in overhead lockers etc.
 
These three are by no means all the changes ahead for the aviation sector but they provide a taster of the many things we as an industry will have to consider when flying our delegates around the world.  We all want to see restrictions lifted and travel on the rise but it has to be done in a way that is safe.  As Stephen concludes: “We will continue to evolve and improve and be ready to take care of our customers when they are ready to fly.”
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