The idea that middle seats can be blocked on a long-term basis without dramatically increasing fares is far-fetched. But passengers love open middle seats (can you blame them?) and cheap fares. That’s why you can expect airlines to unleash a public information blitz in the months ahead about how safe air travel is, focusing on the inherent but invisible safety of the air travel experience.
Airlines Mull Replacing Visible Safety Assurances With Invisible Ones
Airline executives met virtually at the Skift Global Forum 2020. A roundtable which featured Delta CEO Ed Bastian, United CEO Scott Kirby, American Airlines CIO Maya Leibman, and JetBlue COO Joana Geraghty broached the issue of safety.
JetBlue’s Geraghty voiced her opinion of the need to move away from “perception based” policies, most notably blocking middle seats. Instead, she wants airlines to collectively embark upon a public information campaign that would establish flying to be as safe as a trip to the grocery store.
United CEO Kirby quickly agreed, noting, “The facts are stunning how safe an airplane is.”
Certainly such a campaign would benefit airlines two-fold. One, it would get people back in the air. Two, it would allow airlines to sell out flight without fear of alienating customers (JetBlue is blocking middle seats through October 15 while United Airlines is no longer blocking middle seats).
- All passengers wear masks
- HEPA air filtration systems
Is that a gamble you’d be willing to take? Would a massive PR blitz touting that airplanes are safer than grocery stores sway you at all?
And of course details matter. Is the grocery store crowded? Or the airplane? What happens if one person is sick…how do probabilities change? And once you get into that high-level amount of detail, won’t you lose most people?
It’s interesting to me that airlines are talking so frankly about public information being the key to a travel rebound (versus vaccination or testing). If the current U.S. presidential election and America’s reaction to the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that people live in bubbles and each fiercely defend their version of facts and events, creating counter-truths that most are too weary or disinterested in trying to parse to find the truth itself.
We live in a jaded period of history in which trust in institutions is lacking. Thus, I’m not sure that trying to reason with people based upon statistics that airplanes are safe is going to be an effective strategy for restoring air travel demand. That said, flying is a risk I am happy to take for myself and those that I love.