Image: Mormedi

In this instalment of Expert Opinions, APEX Media’s Op-Ed series, Jaime Moreno, founder and CEO of Madrid-based design consultancy Mormedi, asks, “If the air travel industry is implementing so many new initiatives to deal with its worst year on record, why are people still afraid to fly?”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines – and the air transport ecosystem in general – have been working around the clock to rebuild passenger confidence. They started with the basics, which have now become part of their daily routine: the mandatory use of masks, disinfection kits and social distancing. Within a few short months, we have moved from mobile boarding passes to building a completely touchless passenger journey, as evidenced by recent news from Norwegian and Amadeus. Aircraft cabins are being disinfected with ultraviolet light after each flight, and travelers are being screened for the virus before boarding. The post-flight segment of the journey is changing too, thanks to advances in facial recognition for passengers and tracking technologies for baggage that help prevent the formation of crowds at airports, which according to a recent IATA survey is a main concern.

However, fear persists.

That same survey reveals that breathing the air on a plane is among people’s main concerns when it comes to flying again: Fifty-seven percent reported believing the air within cabins is dangerous, which begs the question: Why don’t more people know and believe that the HEPA air filtration systems on planes are hospital grade?  Airlines need to do more to effectively communicate this to help restore passenger trust.

I believe that this crisis will mark a watershed moment in terms of aviation innovation.

Some airlines have drawn on hospitals in other ways that I find slightly more questionable, such as having cabin crew wear full hazmat suits over their uniforms. In my opinion, instead of inspiring confidence, this has the effect of creating a sense of anti-safety, making the aircraft cabin feel more like a hospital waiting room, rather than the start of an adventure. Airlines have already done the hard job of redesigning their processes from a sanitary perspective, but looking at these efforts from a passenger perspective is needed to ensure flying is seen in a positive light.

I believe that this crisis will mark a watershed moment in terms of aviation innovation. There are a lot of initiatives that airlines could quickly prototype and test to see if they increase passenger’s feeling of security, make the journey more joyful and even increase revenues.

Putting myself in passengers’ shoes, I think a greater feeling of control and an increased level of communication with travel providers can do more than a hazmat suit to boost confidence. For the latter, how about cultivating a closer relationship with passengers via the airline app, letting them know where and when they should move in the airport to avoid crowds? How about rewarding people for avoiding bottlenecks and doing their part to make boarding smoother? This would make people feel more positive about their journey and be a great improvement on even the pre-COVID-19 flying experience.

In terms of imparting a feeling of control, how about making people feel more at ease by offering a portable barrier accessory that uses flexible materials and smart fibers? Travelers could carry it with them and easily adapt it to any seat. It could even come with a selection of aromatherapy scents, giving passengers the opportunity to personalize their space.

My point is: To regain passenger confidence, we need to go beyond health and safety; we need to deliver a meaningful experience that elicits joy, not fear.

Jaime Moreno is the founder and CEO of Mormedi, a strategic design and innovation consultancy. He was born and raised in Madrid, and studied Industrial Design at the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland. In 1998, Jaime founded Mormedi in Madrid. The company expanded its presence to Japan in 2007 and London in 2018. Jaime is one of the best known designers in Spain, having won multiple international awards, as well as the highest design honour in Spain, the National Design Award in 2015.