What We’re Made Of: Niall McBain, Spafax


Niall McBain, Spafax, taking a selfie of his at-home workspace in London.

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.

Niall McBain
CEO, Spafax
Location: London
Day 13 of working from home
Date of writing: April 8, 2020

Where are you writing from? 
The drawing room of my flat which overlooks a quiet street in Marylebone, Central London.

What news outlets are you following?
I’m listening to the BBC Coronavirus Newscast and market and business reports, and I read the print dailies of the Financial Times, The Times and The Telegraph.

“We are questioning everything at the strategic level to ensure we can hit the market in the right way when it does come back.”

How are you passing time?
I’ve discovered I can cook and my girlfriend seems to be enjoying it! I walk around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens for exercise. I’ve also been watching a mixture of teen comedies, music documentaries, disaster movies and a lot of classic 70s action movies and TV. Presently, I’m reading Flames of Calais; about the World War II Dunkirk retreat and evacuation and in which one of my grandfathers became a POW.

How prepared was your company to instate remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic? Any tips on how to remain productive under these new circumstances?
Past experience dealing with a major IT virus meant that shifting to remote working was fairly seamless for Spafax across all our locations, even our technical facility The Hub in California. With video calls, daily check-ins, social drop-in calls and events as well as more organized flexibility around work hours for parents with kids at home or caretakers looking after loved ones, we have been able to manage and support each other better.

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?
In consumer marketing there is a creative revival and an acceleration of digital taking place simultaneously. We are seeing daily examples of that from WPP sister companies working with brands and governments around the world, redesigning products or initiatives to meet new demands. Spafax is committed to a creative and digital transformation. We are pivoting toward new creative concepts for passenger entertainment and communications as well as streamlining our infrastructure in the cloud. New platform partners and products are being planned to give airlines new choices when the recovery begins.

Where do you see your company or the industry in six months from now? One year?
There are many unknowns but one thing is for certain: airline cashflow will be a lot less than it was. It’s up to us as vendors to find ways to build efficiency into what we’re doing. At Spafax, we are questioning everything at the strategic level to ensure we can hit the market in the right way when it does come back. It is difficult to say in what shape or form air travel will return but the world needs international airlines. My prediction is that the industry will rise to meet the challenge of the current circumstances and come out stronger for it.

What’s one thing that will never be the same again for commercial aviation?
Sanitation and well-being. Both airlines and passengers will be much more conscious and strict when it comes to sanitation procedures, products and protocol. We’ve already seen Emirates implement COVID-19 testing for passengers preflight and my assumption is that other airlines will follow. Airports have also implemented social distancing measures whereby passengers are obligated to stand further apart from each other and wear masks. This could start a whole new era in travel products and apparel.

What has your company done to join the efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus?
We have focused on supporting our clients and colleagues with practical measures. We have produced a number of editorial, digital and video products for messaging around COVID-19 and enhancements to customer communications at home.

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.