NETHERLANDS – The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) recently hosted an online panel session to address “cities, bureaus, destinations, and delegates on how they can fly and attend our events,” and answered urgent questions on travelling and the aviation sector’s future.
“We want planes to fly, and our delegates to attend face-to-face meetings. That’s why we want to discuss what they’re planning in the future so our industry can take things forward,” said Mr Senthil Gopinath, CEO, ICCA.
Joined by ICCA association members, International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and SkyTeam Alliance Airlines, here are some of the key highlights.
New passenger experience
For those who have travelled recently, they would have already noticed a whole new slew of measures involving masks, increased sanitisation steps, PPE, temperature checks – and there will be more.
Mr Pierre Charbonneau, director of passenger experience & facilitation at IATA said that the new passenger process was designed such that safety measures for customers should be introduced as early as possible in the process of their travel journey.
1. ‘Fitness to Fly’:
This is to ensure all customers should be in good health before leaving home. All information on health status, contacts, and end destinations would be electronically supplied directly to governments, with many countries combining this with visa applications.
2. Minimising touch points:
Steps such as check-ins and printing baggage tags should be done in the comfort of travellers’ homes to minimise touch points at the airport.
3. Organised re-opening of borders:
Close collaborations with governments and industry partners to ensure that the re-opening of borders is done in a synchronised manner, than it was during the sudden closure of borders, which created a lot of confusion for customers stranded overseas.
4. Measures should last only as long as required with a clear exit strategy:
Some are temporary until better medical evidence confirms they can be removed.
Another visible change is the acceleration of contactless technology and biometrics.
“People don’t want to touch things or exchange documents, so there’ll be far more use of mobile phones, printing mobile passes, self-service options, scanning, new ways of claiming baggage, slicker borders control and etc,” said Mr Charbonneau.
The carry-on baggage discussion
In the panel discussion, the experts acknowledged a frequently asked question: “Why will carry-on baggage be something we’ve to amend?”
Firstly, with new added measures at the airport such as temperature screenings, having lesser carry-on baggage would make the clearance journey much quicker.
Secondly, looking from the supplier’s standpoint, IATA urges consumers to think of this as “the less carry-on baggage, the faster and smoother the boarding, and fewer people moving about in the cabin”.
Thirdly, this frees up precious time for the airline to clean more efficiently between flights.
Empty seats do not help
“Let’s be frank; if an airline chooses to block middle seats, the main reason is that it helps people feel better,” said Mr Edward Hollo, director of sales, SkyTeam Alliance Airlines.
There is no medical evidence that confirms risks of transmissions onboard aircrafts are high. According to Mr Charbonneau, this is due to a number of technical reasons including the way air flows in the cabin, various filters that exist, and the fact that people are all facing the same direction.
Mr. Hollo affirmed Mr. Charbonneau’s standpoint, further explaining that the truth is “if you really want to achieve that two-metre distance, a middle seat is not going to do it. The person across the aisle from you is going to be even closer than the person sitting in the window seat”.
Slowly, countries with a better control over the virus are creating ‘travel bubbles’ regionally. Still, longer time of point-to-point travel may be expected before even reaching connections.
“Once you start opening mid-points and people come from different areas – this is where the complexity is because now risk assessment of countries may be different.”
Seamless experience needed
“When we talk about business events and meetings, we always say that your event ends with an airline experience,” said Mr Hollo.
“Now more than ever, it’s important we’re on the same page about how that experience goes and how we make our mutual customers feel confident as they travel around the world.”
One way he suggests, is to open communication between the aviation and business events and meetings industry, especially with the issues of border restrictions and passenger confidence.
“Where you can help us is understand where the demand is, where passengers are returning to travel confidently to attend events at venues and destinations - make sure to reach out to us. Let’s be talking, because the more we know of the demand returning, the more confident we can be that flights need to come back for certain destinations.”
Ultimately, these measures are temporary, and only providing a layered solution in the immediate term, since any tool to restore consumer confidence – whether in flying or in the meetings industry – needs to meet a number of criteria: speed, scalability, efficiency and cost. And there is none at the moment.
“What’s very important to remember is that there’s not one medical solution that will allow [these measures] to be removed at this point. Many tests are being developed, and at this point, none of them is sufficiently reliable to be used,” said Mr Charbonneau.