Some airlines cut back on inflight service to combat coronavirus. Will those changes stick?

Feb 26, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Airlines have been front and center as the coronavirus outbreak has forced widespread changes for travelers around the globe. Carriers have slashed thousands of flights, especially in China and Southeast Asia.

Now, an increasing number of airlines are adjusting their inflight service as part of the effort to combat the disease, also known as COVID-19.

Many of the carriers making changes are either based in Asia or have a strong presence in the region. Among those is Singapore Airlines, which on Monday emailed its frequent-flyer members with an update about changes to inflight service on that carrier.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news.

More: Everything you need to know about the coronavirus

“During this period, you may also notice that there have been changes to our in-flight services. These include the replacement of the hot towel service with pre-set wet towelettes, cessation of the after take-off drink service, removal of reading materials from seat-back pockets, and suspension of in-flight sales,” the airline said in the memo.

Related: Singapore Airlines cancels hundreds of flights amid coronavirus outbreak.

Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research, said that Chinese and Taiwanese carriers have taken similar precautionary steps based on government guidance, including removing pillows and blankets on some flights.

“They’re changing their cabin service procedures, so the passengers will notice this,” Harteveldt said, but he added, “the passengers will accept them because they’re being done in the interest of health and wellness.”

Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Flier blog and Cranky Concierge service, agreed.

“I’m sure some of this is a good and well-thought out precaution, but I imagine more of it is really about reassuring customers,” he said. Customers will probably respond well to the airlines’ measures overall, he added, “as long as they don’t go too far and scare the hell out of people.”

Related: How points and miles can help you if your travel plans are disrupted by coronavirus.

Both Snyder and Harteveldt agreed that the measures are likely to last only as long as the coronavirus threat is imminent for travelers. Snyder said such measures will likely be in place “until the threat is very clearly eliminated.”

Harteveldt and Snyder added that passengers will likely respond better to some of the precautionary service changes than others.

“No one is complaining about the removal of the inflight magazine, no one is going to shed a tear over that,” Harteveldt said. “If you are flying on a 5-, 6-, 7-hour flight and you’re in business class or first class and the airline has dramatically cut back on the amenities that are offered to you on the plane, including possibly removing pillows and blankets, you’re going to be unhappy, there’s no question about that,” he added.

For airlines, Harteveldt suggested, it’s more important to be transparent with passengers about the changes, and set expectations early if their flight may be different than previous journeys with the carrier. He also said it’s important for airlines to take stock of their cleaning procedures, to make sure that aircraft are properly disinfected between every flight.

In-depth: What does the coronavirus outbreak mean for travelers?

In the end, Harteveldt acknowledged, changes to inflight service might be a small annoyance for passengers, but he said it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“As adults, we have to be logical and rational when we experience these inconveniences,” Harteveldt said. “This isn’t cost-cutting, this isn’t random,” he added, “this is in the best interest of public health.”

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.