Opinion: Airlines Need to Communicate Duty of Care Standards to Passengers

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Anthony Harcup

Anthony Harcup has been senior director of Airline Experience at Teague for two years, where he informs the passenger experience design strategy and builds the company’s growing roster of airline customers. During his career he has led some of the industry’s most significant aircraft interior developments for the likes of Etihad, Delta, and JetBlue.

“The next 18 months are expected to be a time of austerity for the air travel industry. Yet with no domestic air travel restrictions currently in place in the US, why are passenger numbers stuck at 40% capacity? With research suggesting more can be done to improve passenger confidence and stimulate the market to increase passenger numbers, and revenues, beyond what is forecast, design innovation is the best way to accelerate the recovery.”

Anthony Harcup, Teague

What was your biggest takeaway after reading the research on passenger confidence shortcomings?

A report by US travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth cited a drop in the average age of travelers from 50 in 2019 down to 38 in 2020, indicating that boomers and seniors comprise a much larger proportion of non-travelers than younger generations. We cross-checked this with another 10,000-respondent survey by Gallup that said 69% of American air travelers aged 55 and older – the demographic most likely to spend money on high-value travel experiences – revealed they wouldn’t be comfortable flying during the pandemic.

Even though it is widely acknowledged that aircraft cabins are statistically very safe, the primary reason for loss of passenger confidence in the cabin (according to a November IPSOS survey) is the fear of airborne infection. Passengers are clearly not entirely comfortable with the status quo. We believe that new technologies and visual safety cues in the cabin will increase confidence and accelerate the recovery by increasing peace of mind.

Airlines in crisis are looking for short-term solutions. What are some things they can do to improve confidence and revenue?

Communicating “duty of care” and creating peace of mind onboard is huge. Global airlines, especially those serving the corporate travel market, understand that duty of care standards are critical during the pandemic and have made health, sanitization and wellbeing both a brand promise and point of differentiation. To this point, middle seat-blocking and mandating the use of face masks have been the core visual safety cues underpinning their brand promise, and these measures will be relaxed this year.

Even when the worst of the pandemic is behind us, infection anxieties will remain at large, leaving many passengers feeling exposed about traveling with these safety measures relaxed. Moving forward, customers will favor airlines that demonstrate a meaningful commitment to initiatives and innovations that ensure duty of care standards are upheld long-term and that ensure better resilience in the face of future pandemics.

Teague came up with AirShield as a solution to these problems. Can you explain how the product works?

AirShield is a new device that extends the reach of the aircraft’s HEPA filter into a passenger’s living space, cocooning them in a personal supply of freshly filtered air. It is permanently installed on top of existing overhead passenger air vents to reshape the air into curtains around and in-between each passenger. It is designed to amplify the benefits of the HEPA filtration system by both optimizing the flow of purified air around the passenger and adding an additional line of defence against the spread of viruses in the cabin. The patented technology is a highly visible addition to the passenger’s living space, delivering extra piece of mind about returning to flight.

Image via Teague
Image via Teague

Can you share any further development/deployment updates?

The product has been developed and tested on-wing with four US airline partners for both the Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 family of aircraft, and we are very excited to announce that we will be launching globally with our engineering supply partner in a few weeks. AirShield is the latest product to spring from our homegrown research and innovation arm of the company. We have a handful of new ideas in the hopper, but our next to market is going to be a next-generation economy-class seat upgrade kit, so keep your eyes out for more on that!

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