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We need to reinvent the air travel experience

Reinvent the air travel experience

"The COVID-19 crisis is forcing the airline industry to reinvent itself. Only those businesses that can transform themselves, quickly, deeply and sustainably will survive"

says Benjamin Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM

In just a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the planet upside down: from an open and accessible world, we have changed into a compartmentalised world separated by borders. For several months, airlines suspended almost all their operations. And while we are slowly and conditionally regaining the freedom to travel within countries and across continents, the future of air transport is being jeopardised by this crisis, both in terms of its short-term economic impact and its longer-term values and responsibilities.

New responsibilities

Airlines will, of course, continue to connect continents and people, economies and cultures, because they play an essential role in sharing knowledge and in the perpetual progress of our global society. It is impossible to imagine the world we dream of without air transport. However, the crisis facing our industry must lead us to rethink the way it works, even reinventing itself in several respects.

As we know, the aircraft is the safest means of transport. Since its origins, players across the aviation industry have been pioneers in the field of safety, developing and sharing new technologies to make air travel ever more reliable. Today, we must extend the concept of aviation safety to include health and hygiene, to assume a vital new responsibility in the world that is opening up to us. At Air France-KLM, we have been working tirelessly since the beginning of the crisis to do just this. The Group's airlines have taken stringent measures to guarantee the highest level of health and safety, taking passengers’ temperatures, wearing masks, ensuring the highest levels of cabin air quality, and implementing additional disinfection measures wherever possible. To remain a preferred means of transport in tomorrow's world, air travel must ensure health and hygiene safety remains just as much a priority as the strict physical safety of our passengers.

Accelerating the industry’s ecological transition

While the need for environmental stewardship has become increasingly obvious, the demands of governments, as well as of their citizens, have become ever more rigorous. This is a very good thing. It is essential to respond to the immense climate challenges ahead of us by collectively exploring all avenues to reduce greenhouse gases, noise pollution and all forms of negative environmental impact.

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The entire air transport ecosystem must make a joint commitment: airlines must promote biofuels and develop eco-piloting, with a fleet of more modern aircraft.

Aircraft and engine manufacturers, too, are reducing their carbon footprint through innovation and construction processes and developing more fuel-efficient aircraft components. The most efficient aircraft are no longer the largest, and priority is being given to the latest generation of aircraft, such as the Airbus A350, A220 and the Boeing 787, which are marking the end of the four-engine aircraft era sooner than expected.

With this collective approach, we must one day succeed in designing a "clean" aircraft, as daring and sustainable as the electric car was for the automobile sector. In the great tradition of disruption in our industry, we must be at the forefront of innovation so that future generations can continue to travel, discover the world and connect people everywhere.

Meeting new demands

While air travel has become rather routine, our customers are now questioning the relevance of such a travel solution: why take the plane and not the train? Why even travel when global lockdown has proven the effectiveness of videoconferencing? Which airline can best meet passengers’ new aspirations? Faced with these unprecedented questions from their customers, airlines will have to transform the experience they offer them. The travel experience must be re-thought: from flexibility during booking to the consumption of local produce on meal trays, and from the elimination of plastic on board to frequent flyer programmes offering "environmental miles". In this new paradigm, it is the most responsible airlines that will prove resilient in this historic crisis, because they will be the ones who rewrite the future of air travel and adapt to a new travel reality

Air travel will never be the same again

Near the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we saw several airlines disappear within a few weeks. The consolidation of the sector, which had largely begun in recent years, is likely to accelerate, as well as new alliance strategies that will help restore profitability in a sector now affected by new challenges.

The aviation industry is (still) living through a crisis, and as it emerges it will have to align the aspirations of customers and global citizens everywhere with redesigned and renewed products and services. It is only by resolutely committing to this transformation that the air transport industry will contribute to reinventing the travel experience for the twenty-first century

"In the great tradition of disruption in our industry, we must be at the forefront of innovation so that future generations can continue to travel, discover the world and connect people everywhere."

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