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Flight Forecast

Flight Forecast

by Allan Lynch

As the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines raises hopes of a return to in-person meetings and travel, the question of what exactly that return will look like is a hot debate. Industry insiders share their thoughts on the future of group travel.

In the nine months since lives, careers and industry came to an abrupt stop, people have wondered what the future holds for the meetings and travel sector.

The gregarious nature of the business drives a hope that there is a future beyond webinars and virtual events. And the 633,000 Canadians employed directly and indirectly by the air sector need people to fly again.

While most of the industry has been grounded, Dallyce Macas, president of eĢminence Canada Tourism Consulting, recently returned from Switzerland, where the Zurich Film Festival and a conference in St. Moritz “went ahead as scheduled with private transfers to/from the private venue. Protocols in place at every stop along the way.”

Macas’ time in Switzerland taught her the keyword for group travel
over the next few years will be private. “For those organizations that
wish to gather groups in person, the protocols will involve self-funded, private processes. Expense lines in budgets will expand to include private rapid testing, private aircraft and group transfers, private cleaning services, private health consultation on-site, along with non-traditional private venues.”

As for the future of group airlift, Macas suggests demand for private smaller aircraft will rise. “However, private aircraft charters will demand a risk assessment by corporations which are mandated through travel policies to limit the number of employees or executives on board any one aircraft.”

This small aircraft and private focus will drive business to off-the-beaten- path destinations.

Air Canada’s national manager for group sales, Stefano Mastrantonio, says their Jetz division, which traditionally services professional sports teams, entertainment headliners and corporations, “has been busier.” It has also been redeployed for commercial flights on popular winter routes.

Where Mastrantonio and Air Canada are seeing challenges is on the ground. While major airlines have done a good job relaying the message about their additional cleaning regimes on board the aircraft, feedback shows uncertainty about ground conditions in airports and transportation links to and from airports. “Air Canada’s CleanCare+ program is a very touchless experience. That’s what people are looking for. Pretty much everything is accessed through your phone, so you don’t interact very much with our personnel until you are on board. It’s a very sterile environment.”

WestJet launched a Safety Above All program and added a Safety landing page to their website to explain to passengers the ever-evolving health regime the airline has in place.

And Porter Airlines, which returns to service in December, will offer a Healthy Flights program covering everything from check-in to arrival at the destination.

Canadian airlines have kept their same booking regimes in place, but added flexibility in pricing through the suspension of change and cancellation fees. As an additional booking incentive, both Air Canada and WestJet include specific COVID-19 insurance coverage for medical costs at the destination as well as additional accommodation expenses.

To further reduce touch points, WestJet and Air Canada’s domestic flights under an hour don’t offer food and drink. Longer and international flights have a modified food and drink service.

As for what to expect on the ground, Robin Smith, a communications advisor with Pearson International Airport, says, “Passengers should come prepared with a face covering they will wear throughout their entire journey. They should also be prepared to have their temperature taken by CATSA staff before security.”

The temperature test takes about 15 seconds to administer and with fewer people travelling there is no requirement to arrive earlier than normal at the airport since security lines are shorter.

Facemasks, temperature checks and extra cleaning are changes to our traditional travel regime, but then our travel experience changed after 9/11. What was scary dissolved into an inconvenience that became the new normal. Hopefully, once a vaccine is approved that is all this will be.

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