I recently took a long-haul flight from Dubai to the UK in early June. Post COVID-19 has resulted in some significant changes resulting in some challenges between creating a great customer experience and COVID-19 precautionary measures.
There are a lot more queues
Before COVID-19, there was a 1hr 30 minute to 2-hour window for checking in for a long-haul flight (depending on the airline) and I must confess that I tended to aim for 90 mins rather than 2 hours. However, post COVID-19 it was recommended to arrive at the airport 4 hours in advance of my flight which meant I needed to be at the airport at 3.45 am. This was a very early start!
Despite, there being fewer customers flying on my flight, and a far lower number of flights per day, I found the additional requirements e.g. temperature checks before check-in led to more queues. I predict queues will only increase as more customers return to travelling by air, which is not an appealing prospect!
Ubiquitous mask wearing
Before COVID-19, sightings of people wearing masks while travelling were very rare, akin to sun in Scotland during the summer. Now, mask wearing is mandatory within the airport and onboard. This does rather inhibit smiling at fellow customers and staff as you need to look very closely at people’s eyes to see what expressions they are wearing. Masks also render lip-reading impossible for those customers who are hard of hearing or deaf. There is also the challenge of enjoying food and drink on board for which you need to remove your mask to consume the aforementioned food and drink.
Personally, I find social distancing to be a very depressing phrase, physical distancing is much better. Post COVID, I found there to be a lot of signage emphasising the need to remain 2 metres apart. The middle seat of the airplane was also not filled during my flight. Good news as I had more elbow room but bad news for airline operators who tend to rely on 70% occupancy to break even.
Removal of Literature
Pre COVID, I always enjoyed reading the inflight customer magazine. Now there are no magazines and sadly no duty-free magazines on board either. I have a love-hate relationship with QR codes which replaced a lot of information at the airport. When they work, they are great but when they don’t, QR codes are completely useless so I would suggest a QR code and website URL would increase the chances of customer reading the information.
So significant changes but I do take hope that the flight was operating and was 50% full so travel will happen going forward. It is going to be a challenge to maintain an enjoyable customer experience while maintaining COVID-19 precautions but it is not insurmountable!