How radically could air travel change? These questions from Delta offer some insights

May 1, 2020

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What will it take to get travelers back on planes as coronavirus recovery begins for the airline industry?

That’s likely top of mind at all of the the big U.S. carriers, and at least one of them is surveying its customers to help figure out what that might entail.

Delta Air Lines seems to have quietly acknowledged the importance of customer confidence this week in a survey it sent to at least some members of its elite frequent flyers. Screenshots of the survey were emailed to TPG by a Diamond Medallion member of Delta’s SkyMiles program.

Delta spokeswoman Kate Modolo confirmed the survey to TPG, saying that the carrier is taking a data-driven approach in determining what’s important to customers.

“As we look to the future, we’ll continue to use this approach to make sure we’re delivering on the experiences that matter most,” she said.

Delta’s effort comes as carriers are moving from the triage of slashing service as demand evaporated during the pandemic to figuring out what comes next for networks and passengers.

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Already, many airlines have implemented social-distancing plans and other measures that are likely to be in place for the short term, but COVID-19 will almost certainly have long-lasting effects on the way people travel and socialize, and airlines are going to have to adapt to changing passenger expectations.

Delta’s survey gives some indication of what concerns company executives.

Questions range from what flying should look like after the pandemic subsides to — perhaps most obviously — what would ease customers’ fears and prompt them to book new flights.

(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

The questions covered topics such as possible changes to inflight service, proposed social-distancing protocols and public health screening measures in the airport. They seemed designed to gauge what practices would make passengers more comfortable flying.

Related: Delta CEO raises prospect of ‘immunity passports’ for air travel.

Perhaps just as important, the survey also seemed interested in querying customers about what kinds of interventions could be seen as overzealous. Delta posed a series of questions about potential future health and safety measures on board its planes, allowing survey participants to select if they’d be open to implementation “temporarily,” “indefinitely” or “not at all.”

(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)


The survey seemed to indicate even some of Delta’s most basic decisions are being reassessed, such as the carrier’s schedule.

One question ask participants to “imagine stay-at-home orders are lifted” and where they think they’d be likely to fly once that happens. Delta’s survey said it was asking to to help it “best plan ahead and be thoughtful about new schedule after COVID-19.”

Other questions suggest Delta might be rethinking sustainability strategies on single-use items. Delta, in addition to a number of other U.S. airlines, have tried to eliminate single-use items like plastic cups in favor of reusable items.

(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Delta also queried customers about whether they’d like more- or less-frequent service during flights. Currently, most airlines have streamlined inflight service to limit contact between crews and passengers amid concerns about potentially spreading coronavirus.

Questions about service frequency suggest executives could be wondering if passengers may still exhibit nerves about such contact even after the pandemic eases.

(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Not all airlines have polled their passengers so directly on possible changes, but Delta’s survey reflects how quickly the airline is changing its standards in response to coronavirus.

Airline policies have evolved rapidly in the last few weeks, as carriers have modified boarding procedures and rolled out requirements for passengers to wear masks, among other measures.

Related: What travel could look like after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the early days of the crisis, JetBlue’s president, Joanna Geraghty, told TPG that her airline was providing Lysol wipes to customers, even as cleaning supplies were hard to come by in the general market.

Delta’s survey suggests that the Atlanta-based carrier may soon implement a similar practice. It asked how much of an effect a “clean kit” would have in making passengers feel more comfortable, and then separately asked at what point in their journey passengers would most like to receive such provisions. That second question seems to imply that “clean kits” are a foregone conclusion for Delta, and that it may now just be a matter of figuring out the logistics.

(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Across the board, experts agree that the current public health crisis is going to permanently change travel. As the industry begins to recover, it’s still an open question as to exactly what those changes will be.

Read more: Delta says goodbye to the last ‘Mad Dogs’ flying in the US amid coronavirus retirements.

Featured photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

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