Paul Chen, VX Consulting, among his aircraft models and airline paraphernalia.

What We’re Made Of is a Q&A series that looks at how companies in the aviation industry are tackling challenges brought on by the COVID–19 pandemic. We’ve had to adapt to changes in where, when and how we work, but we are resilient. If you would like to share your experience, e-mail editor@apex.aero.

Yen-Pu Paul Chen
Founder, VX Consulting
Location: Chicago
Day 20 of working from home
Date of writing: April 9, 2020
 

Are you in lockdown right now?
Here in the state of Illinois the government says it’s a “stay at home” order rather than a “lockdown” or “martial law.”

Where are you writing from?
My home office, overlooking the garage and back alley, where I can see my neighbor’s kids playing hoops with no shirt on when the temperature is around 50°F. There’s also been no more of O’Hare’s traffic contrails in the sky.

“How an airline managed the massive schedule disruptions as well as their handling of subsequent refund requests, may shape customer confidence in their brand.”

What’s your new office attire or go-to comforts at home during this time?
Airline amenities including United Airlines Polaris pajamas and Oman Air business-class pajamas. Additionally, EVA Air Hello Kitty vomit bags and an All Nippon Airways mask are standing by!

What news outlets are you following?
APEX Daily Experience, FlightGlobal weekly briefing, Twitter, Linkedin and… rumors!

How are you passing time?
The Mask of Zorro, The Man in the Iron Mask, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm… I’m just kidding! (Need a little fun during the lockdown.) I’ve been watching the Vietnam War documentary on Netflix, playing Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8 and Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch. And dribbling a basketball in the basement.

What were your goals/projections for 2020?
With the impact of coronavirus, our goals for 2020 are helping airlines focus on a few key aspects of their operations, to win back passenger confidence to fly post-pandemic.

Can you share some specific challenges your business has faced as a result of the outbreak? How did you overcome them and how can the industry learn from your experiences?
Many third-party consulting services are considered non-essential during the global pandemic when the majority of worldwide fleets are parked and many passenger airlines are completely shut down and subject to government bailout. Obviously, a diversified portfolio of offerings would help in a situation like this. Our capability in the Chinese language has kept things going outside of the industry.

What has your company done to join the efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus?
We’ve been staying connected with clients and providing them with commentaries on the latest industry trends due to COVID-19. For example, we reminded airlines of the importance of routine cabin cleaning and its impact on passengers, which can’t be substituted by disinfecting work.

Some companies may have been inspired to create new product lines, or redesign existing product or services as a result of the pandemic. How is it driving innovation?
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen an increasing amount of innovative ideas in the industry, either improving aircraft hygiene or protecting passenger benefits. In response to the changes, as consultants, besides helping airlines optimize cabin cleaning effectiveness, we help airlines strategize how to improve customer retention if it becomes inevitable that loyalty programs have to extend members’ elite status (a few airlines and hotel brands have already announced the move), which may have some drawbacks.

What’s one thing that will never be the same again for commercial aviation?
Passenger perception of aircraft cleanliness will never be the same if even the simple act of handshaking is going to be a thing of the past. Additionally, the trust factor will become more critical than ever: How an airline managed the massive schedule disruptions during the pandemic, as well as their handling of subsequent refund requests, may shape customer confidence in their brand.

Read more about the coronavirus impact on the air travel industry, including APEX’s position on the matter, and subscribe to the APEX Daily Experience newsletter to stay up to date.