United Airlines held a virtual conference for corporate and business customers this week. Panels include gaining traveler confidence as they come back, and what to expect. What to expect?
We already know what to expect though: more cleaning and less service, masks, and full flights. The first time back is a little weird at first, but it’s not something that really lingers. You get over the strangeness of it all by doing it. One trip back and you’re an expert at it again.
What does go a long way is a welcome and kind confidence from employees. It makes you feel like they’ve been there, they’re fine, and they know this is all going to be ok.
Details matter. My first flight in 13 months, and @Delta was the airline that made the most sense. FA came up to me mid-flight and told me her records showed it had been 14 months since I'd flown with Delta (correct). She thanked me for my business and welcomed me back. 1/2
— Edward Pizzarello (@pizzainmotion) April 29, 2021
Early in the pandemic my aunt and uncle in Sydney made several 8 hour car trips to visit their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter who live at the Northern end of New South Wales. The most convenient airport is across the state border into Queensland, and state borders were shut.
Once they were allowed to cross they returned to flying, and my uncle shared the story of walking into the Qantas and being asked if it was his “first time back.” The agent didn’t have a tablet that prompted her to know that it was, so she didn’t have the detail to offer that Delta’s agent did for Ed Pizzarello. But she asked, smiled, and said she was excited for him to be back. She projected that confidence that said everything would be just fine.
When I first started flying a couple of weeks after 9/11, agents in City Ticket Offices for United were still visibly shaken. It’s understandable that cabin crew were as well. When flight attendants are nervously looking out the window, clearly worried over what happens next, passengers are too. We didn’t know if there was more to come.
I tried to reassure one woman in the galley of a United Airbus A319, offering that even if there was more out there that there are fewer than there had been two weeks earlier – she might not feel like it but that meant she was safer.
The truth is that we gained confidence in flying after 9/11 by flying and seeing that it worked out alright. We gain confidence in travel during the new normal by traveling. And hopefully we try to think of each other as people along the way, and show a little kindness, even as we try to social distance inside crowded airports and despite the end of blocked middle seats even on Delta and in Alaska’s extra legroom section.
To be sure, Hawaii and Puerto Rico travel is more complicated – you need to look up testing rules and there are forms. And international travel more complicated still: is the destination open to you with testing? vaccination? Is your connecting city open to you, in case your fight is cancelled, or would you have to spend the night in the airport waiting for the next flight? And what’s the Covid-19 situation on the ground, such that rules might change between the time you book and when you travel.
The biggest barrier to restoring travel with confidence is regime uncertainty. So get vaccinated, get started with lower 48 domestic travel if you’re an American, and things should be fine We do it by doing it.