Airlines will try to fill premium seats with leisure customers when travel resumes, an industry analyst has said.
Speaking during a WTM online conference, JLS Consulting’s John Strickland said airlines would have to innovate to fill premium cabins once the pandemic was over.
“VFR will be the strongest source of recovery and there will be pent-up demand for leisure travel, but the lovely seats and the onboard product that is normally the choice of business travellers is very much in question right now,” he said.
“I am very much of the school of thought that believes this will not all come back.”
As well as cost cutting, firms will wish to be seen to prove green credentials and favour video conferencing ahead of travel, he said. “I think this is going to cause a major challenge for British airlines…that will have to rework their business models entirely or look for new customers to fill these business class seats.”
This meant there could be additional capacity for leisure travellers. “Premium leisure traffic could maybe be expanded,” he said. Passengers would be attracted not by the need to arrive refreshed for work, but for health reasons and wanting more space, he added.
Strickland said any new aircraft orders in the next few years would be for fleet replacement, rather than expansion, and would be for smaller aircraft types, meaning more single-aisle jets on long-haul routes.
He predicted no full recovery in demand for air travel for “four to five years”. “The other challenge is the attitude and behaviour of governments. Every government is doing its own thing; we have a cobweb of confusion around the world. We need to see much closer cooperation.”