Airlines respond to COVID-19 crisis

It is a collective responsibility to get the world back on track, and that involves the government, the industry, and the people. Despite the unfortunate initial delay in doing so, the world is instinctively banding together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines have a major role to play in this fight because they are part and fabric of this interconnected world, carrying people and cargo. Some may argue that airlines were part of the problem behind the rapid spread of the virus and much more so than before, during SARS in 2002, owing to near tripling of air passenger traffic (2012–2018). However, airlines are undeniably part of the solution also. Here is a modest list of how airlines are helping:

  1. Braving the risk to evacuate passengers from virus-affected regions. Despite massive flight cancellations around the world and often at the risk to their own staff, airlines are helping to bring people back home. Moreover, all aircraft carrying passengers with suspected infection are thoroughly disinfected, sometimes taking 36 hours for the turnaround, and the crew members are thereafter asked to serve a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, representing a substantial toll on people, operations, and finances (see here and here).
  2. Adapting to new working conditions with self-sacrifice and adaptiveness. Airlines are making significant sacrifices by grounding their fleets and standing down their crew. Imagine if crew members had the virus and continued to fly. Furthermore, airlines shifted their support and operational staff to home-based work mode, which is helping to reduce risks of exposure but making the day-to-day even more challenging. Although, as one senior airline technology executive shared with me, “we are not used to working like this, but we are discovering an unexpected opportunity here by trying new tools and solutions that didn’t matter before.”
  3. Leveraging their cargo capacity to deliver much-needed medical supplies. As global transportation networks shut down, preventing human travel, airlines are stepping up efforts to deliver cargo. Unlike other modes of transportation, airlines like AirAsia are able to transport large volumes of freight quickly and efficiently. This is particularly relevant at this time given the extreme scarcity of medical supplies and protective gear in places like Africa, where Ethiopian Airlines was able to step in to help. Even aircraft manufacturer Airbus is contributing to the solution by directing its test flights to transport the much-needed cargo.
  4. Working with partners to help local communities, building brand equity. A good deed is twice as good when it helps communities in need and makes good business sense. For instance, Qantas Airways decided to help Woolworths, its frequent flyer program partner and Australia’s largest grocery chain, by redeploying some of its furloughed staff. While Qantas doesn’t have enough work to occupy its personnel due to its fleet’s grounding, Woolworths has the opposite problem — it doesn’t have enough workers to respond to the growing demand. Meanwhile, KLM received generous aid from its three Chinese airline alliance partners containing tens of thousands of face masks and gloves intended for the Dutch healthcare system. Two months prior to that, it was the other way around when KLM had sent aid to China. The bottom line is this: Partners helping partners to help their communities creates stronger bonds and better business in the future.

For the full article, please refer to my ForresterNow story, COVID-19 Has Ground Airlines And Hit Their Pockets, But They Can Soar Again If They Learn The Right Lessons (client access only).