By Catharine Hamm
The Los Angeles Times
You may be wearing a mask. Middle seats could be empty on purpose. And the newest passenger may be a sky janitor.
Welcome to what may be airline travel in the post-coronavirus world.
We cannot know with certainty what will happen in the world of aviation, but we do know this: When the shutdown is over, the next airline trip you take probably won’t resemble your last. Changes include the end of cabin service on some carriers, meaning those snacks that found their way back after the Great Recession are disappearing again. So long, Stroopwafels or their equivalent.
Change has been the only constant in the airline industry, so get ready for more rules, more “new norms” and more variation in ticket prices.
Fasten your seat belts for the all-different, incredibly bumpy ride in an industry expected to lose $314 billion in air passenger revenue this year, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Your flight attendant might be wearing a face mask and you might be too, either by mandate or preference.
United, American, Frontier and JetBlue will require flight attendants to wear masks. Delta mandates it if attendants cannot maintain distancing, and flight attendants at other airlines are being encouraged to don them as well. JetBlue also is requiring masks for passengers, but even if your carrier doesn’t require them, you may want to wear one anyway.
On some airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta and Spirit, you’ll see empty middle seats in an effort to keep passengers apart. It’s easier to do that now, because the seats are empty anyway, said Seth Kaplan, an airline analyst based in Washington, D.C.
But, he asked, “What happens when blocking middle seats means turning away a substantial amount of business? There is a correlation between airlines that have packed about as many seats on airplanes as can be packed and airfares that were at about their all-time, inflation-adjusted low.”
If reduced load factors are no longer economically sustainable, Aviointeriors of Italy has a couple of suggestions.
One is a seat configuration, called the Janus, in which the middle seat in a three-across configuration is turned the other way and clear barriers surround the seats so you’re not in your seatmate’s airspace.
The other is called Glassafe, which resemble vertical salad bar sneeze guards between seats.
More surfaces to clean? Yes. But there may be a person for that.
Think sky janitor, said Shashank Nigam, chief executive of SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing consultancy, and the author of a report called “The Rise of Sanitised Travel.” That person, Nigam said, would be responsible for the constant cleaning of “high-touch areas inside every airplane.”