The boss of JetBlue believes aviation is still seen as "part of the Covid problem", despite evidence to suggest extensive efforts by the industry to ensure safety onboard flights have paid off.
Speaking at WTM Virtual, chief executive Robin Hayes said a "common framework" for travel in the Covid era would be "immensely beneficial", and would avoid subjecting travellers to different rules at each stage of the passenger journey.
During a live interview with JLS Consulting’s John Strickland on Wednesday (11 November), Hayes reiterated JetBlue’s belief that testing would be critical to air travel over the coming months.
However, Hayes said there needed to be a joined-up approach to testing. "We have to be thoughtful," he said, warning that if travel doesn’t work together on the broader implementation of testing requirements, every company travellers interact with on holiday would end up having their own rules – flagging airlines, airports, hotels and amusement parks.
Hayes said the "secret sauce" would be a process that allows travellers to take a test at home or at their local pharmacy, "get it on an app", and then use this during their entire journey.
He said it was his belief testing prices would continue to come down, while accuracy increases, but warned it was unlikely to be until 2021 before widespread, low-cost tests – both PCR and antigen tests for Covid – are available to travellers.
During the early stages of the Covid crisis, Hayes revealed JetBlue’s traffic fell to as low as 3-4% when New York was the epicentre of the US’s coronavirus epidemic, forcing the carrier to take drastic steps to reduce its cash burn from around $15 million a day to $6 million.
"We can all agree this is the most devastating state of events any of us has ever faced," said Hayes. "Travel in the early days was seen as how the virus moved around the world. I think aviation, because of that, has always been viewed sceptically and as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.
"I think as we get further into this, as we better understand which measures are working to reduce coronavirus spread and which cause a lot of disruption but don’t really help, I think we can get smarter as an industry and global community."
Alluding to self-isolation or quarantine requirements, Hayes said it was his belief testing was the "better answer", one that was more reasonable, safer, and helped people work through friction points and get them contributing to economic activity again.
He also sought to dispel the myth quarantine was not an issue in the US, noting the wide range of different approaches and rules employed by different states, and poor levels of compliance with quarantine. "We’ve seen some of that friction here too."
Hayes said an extension to the US Cares Act would be vital to securing the industry’s interests longer term, and reflected on good bi-partisan support from both Republicans and Democrats. "Everyone came together," he said.
On the US election result, he said JetBlue had for the past 20 years worked with different administrations and had relationships "across the aisle". "I’m optimistic however the cards fall," he said, adding the main priority for the industry would be a follow-up to the Cares Act.