Can Covid-19 bring back dignity to airline travel?

Friday April 30 2021

With the pandemic, traveller expectations and awareness have been heightened and airlines are willing to invest in safety and health. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Will the travel industry take the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to clean up and change things that make travel a daunting endeavour to many?

Even before the crisis, health experts warned that aeroplanes, trains and hotels are some of the worst germ-infested public places. No wonder then that air travel became one of the best conduits for the virus.

With this pandemic, traveller expectations and awareness have been heightened and airline or hotels willing to invest in safety and health as a priority will recover quickly. Here is my wish-list.

Increase toilet size, improve designs

Trying to use the Economy cabin’s toilet facilities is probably one of the most undignified experiences about air travel, and a nightmare for any person with claustrophobia. Most bodies can hardly fit in the tiny cubicle. Due to poor air circulation one feels like suffocating before the business is finished.

Replace Economy Class with Premium


On social distancing, economy seating on an airplane no longer makes sense. Passengers have for long complained about the ever-reducing seat-pitch and width in Economy Class seats and space. Taller than average passengers and those whose body weight is more than the average will always have an uncomfortable journey. Long limbs will suffer the absence of adequate leg room leaving them shifting restlessly.

A spacious seat and decent space is the greatest desire of any Economy Class flier. Change is certainly needed, not merely for comfort but also for passenger safety. Indeed, why not eliminate Economy Class and introduce Premium Economy as the standard to embrace social distancing in the Economy Class cabin?

Digitise everything

Post-Covid, we will no longer need a desk clerk at check-in counters in airports. Self check-in should be as easy as paying your parking fees while exiting a mall. A passenger should be able to walk through a health scanner and have all their vitals checked.

Once approved, they should move onto the check-in kiosk or desk and wait for facial recognition. Once their face has been matched to their passport and ticket — details already with the airline — they should wait for step-by-step instructions to place their luggage on a rump which would weigh it, tag it and automatically push it onto the luggage belt straight into the aircraft. A human supervisor would only be needed if the luggage did not meet the requirements programmed into the computer.

One price for every seat in a class

The ‘savvy’ traveller is one who’s so good at looking for flight bargains that whole algorithms and bots have been created to scour the Internet for such bargains. Questionable discounts should be banned. Everyone in the same class must be offered the same price or discount like a supermarket.

Theft, loss of luggage should end

Airlines and airports should invest in technology that passengers could use to protect their luggage. Many have lost invaluable items due to negligence and a lack of safety policy in place to ensure safe delivery and recovery of’ luggage.

Make long layovers better

It is not strange to find passengers with long layovers sleeping on the floor at airports! Airports and airlines should liaise to provide services that make layovers more tolerable, especially those travelling with children, medical conditions, expectant mothers, the elderly, and those with layovers that are more than four hours.

Airlines could offer complimentary hotel stays to these passengers where they could take showers, quick naps and enjoy a relaxed rest as they wait for their flights.