Travel Trends: How Will Commercial Aviation Be Different In 2021?

Panasonic Avionics
01/06/21 6 MIN READ

This past year has forever changed the way we live, communicate, and see the world. And though some have referred to 2020 as the “year that wasn’t,” the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated.

While we continue to face a number of ongoing challenges—many of which will shape our industry for years to come—the hard lessons learned in 2020 have also reminded us of just how innovative and resilient aviation can be in the face of massive challenges.

Though thinking about the year ahead with any certainty might give one pause after such a year full of such unexpected events, there are a number of bright spots on the travel horizon—not least of which is a renewed focus on solutions that look to keep travelers, and our industry, safer and more connected than ever before.

COVID-19 Protocols to Continue

In November, a Passenger Confidence Tracker survey from Inmarsat found that 83% of global passengers claim the pandemic will change their travel habits in both the near-term and long after the pandemic subsides. Even with a vaccine rolling out in many countries, expect to see many of the Covid-19 health and safety protocols currently in place—such as in-terminal rapid tests, mask mandates, biometric screenings, leveraging technology to reduce touchpoints on the aircraft, etc.—stay with us for a while and maybe even become a permanent fixture of air travel moving forward.

Travel Trends: How Will Commercial Aviation Be Different In 2021?

Private Tours/Trips

Already trending before the pandemic, private tours and adventure travel trips like those run by American outdoor retail co-op REI and Backroads.com should continue to be popular in 2021. Intimate, controlled groups—especially with friends and/or family members who may already be “podding” together—may be more appealing for international travelers with the resources to go private. Experts also see this trend potentially expanding into the private charter jet market as well.

Device Mirroring In-Flight

Passengers are already able to use their devices as remotes and pair their personal headphones and AirPods with their seatback IFE systems via Bluetooth. Will device mirroring—which allows passengers to watch their own content on the larger IFE screen —be next?

At the recent all-virtual APEX EXPO, Paul Harper, Director of consulting firm Harper & Co., suggested that airlines who figure out how to enable easy-to-use mirroring solutions in-flight will be dealing with IFE “gold.” That’s especially true in an era where passengers have grown accustomed to streaming what they want, when and where they want to watch it.

While we continue to face a number of ongoing challenges—many of which will shape our industry for years to come—the hard lessons learned in 2020 have also reminded us of just how innovative and resilient aviation can be in the face of massive challenges.

Flexibility & Transparency

Speaking of venturing back into the world, the keywords moving forward for many travelers will be flexibility and transparency.

Right now, many passengers are purchasing flights less than a month out, versus the 35-46 days in advance that was common in 2019 and at the start of the pandemic. Additionally, a recent report from Expedia and ARC notes that passengers seem to be gravitating towards itineraries that offer more affordable refundable ticket prices and flexibility across the board.

This suggests that although travelers will be eager to hit the open skies again soon, they will also be more cautious about how and where they travel. Perhaps more importantly, they will also be looking to airlines to keep them informed about potential changes and delays in real-time. Airlines that can meet these needs head-on through timely alerts and updates, and which can reduce or eliminate cancellation fees, have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves here.

Work From Anywhere

If 2020 was the year we all learned to work from home, then 2021 might just be the year the world realizes they can work from anywhere. In other words: have solid Wi-Fi connection, will travel.

The “bleisure” movement—that is, longer trips that combine business and leisure travel—could even expand to include the whole family, with many still working and schooling together from home. Review42.com’s recent round-up of remote worker stats from around the web noted that 77% of remote workers say they are more productive working outside the office and a whopping 99% of telecommuters say that they would like to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future.

In August, Barbados pioneered a 12-month digital nomad visa concept, which allows visitors to “work from paradise” for a year. And Expedia recently offered a “Work From Here” promotion, which granted travelers the chance to telecommute from one of three luxury vacation destinations in the U.S. for the super low rate of $20.20. Expect to see many more of these types of offerings popping up in the new year.

Travel Trends: How Will Commercial Aviation Be Different In 2021?

Contactless Payments

With consumers embracing contactless pay options and QR code menu ordering on the terrestrial front, expect to see last year’s cash-free travel trend become the new normal moving forward. We’ll especially be seeing it when it comes to in-flight purchases, which have already been trending towards tap, Apple Pay, and other cashless options for years.

Isolation Class Offerings

While empty middle seats might still be common, there has been a push of late towards what Globetrender refers to as premium “isolation class” offerings, particularly on the business travel front. In fact, 75% of the respondents to a recent Globetrender survey said that being able to fly first or business class would make them more likely to travel for work in the near term.

Taking a cue from self-contained, first-class suites like those already offered by Air France and Emirates, carriers worldwide are exploring a range of isolation class options right now including everything from plexiglass seat shields and microbial cabin interiors to bold reimagining of the first and business class cabins along the lines of PriestmanGoode’s luxury Pure Skies concept. Here again, airlines who hit the business traveler sweet spot on this front are expected to lead the pack in 2021 and beyond.

Connectivity is King

People spent 2020 streaming TV shows and movies, gaming, mobile shopping, and attending virtual weddings, graduations, and family holiday dinners. Needless to say, pandemic-era consumers have grown accustomed to being connected 24/7. With Inmarsat’s above-mentioned survey noting that 40% of travelers say in-flight connectivity is a must moving forward, in-flight Wi-Fi should no longer be viewed as a “nice to have” add-on, but rather a key component of any world-class IFE system and many touchless cabin safety protocols as well. If there was ever any doubt about it before, connectivity will definitely be king in 2021.

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