Amenities has taken the opportunity to catch up with Simon Ward, one of the leading independent experts on airline onboard amenities and founder of The TravelPlus Airline Amenity Awards. We hear his thoughts on this unique year, and what he thinks the airline onboard amenities industry will look like moving forward.

How has the pandemic impacted the airline and onboard amenity industry?

No other industry sector has been as badly affected by the pandemic; global aviation is facing its worst crisis in living memory. We have witnessed 20 airlines going bust so far this year, with around 5,000 passenger aircrafts mothballed, as well as the early retirement Boeing 747’s and Airbus a380’s.

This has devastated the onboard services sector with many suppliers fighting for survival with cancelled orders and no new business. Airlines have been selling comfort items online to loyal customers in an effort to liquidate their containers and warehouses full of pre-ordered stock.

In the early days of the pandemic, all the suppliers rushed to compete for the airlines demand for PPE equipment, however, all were similar in content and design. More recently a number of suppliers have differentiated themselves by developing brands such as TravelShield ™ by WESSCO International, #flysafe from Spiriant and Wet & Clean from FORMIA.

When do you expect to see the industry start to recover?

I anticipate that the airlines recovery will be driven by leisure tourism and domestic travel in Q3 2021. With more people working from home, business travel will not be as prevalent. I would expect that long-haul international carriers will continue to face the biggest challenges as they are more dependent on business travellers.

Long haul flight recovery will be constrained by travel corridors, entry restrictions and in some cases bilateral agreements between nations. The lack of business travel could see some routes become commercially unviable, which will mean less choice for passengers in the longer term. All of which will suppress the demand for new onboard passenger amenities.

What impact will this have on the cabin classes in the future?

I would expect to see a reduction in First and Business class, as one demographic now flies privately, and corporate budgets are forcing others to fly economy, so I think we will defiantly see an escalation in premium economy seats. A number of airlines prior to the pandemic had announced that they were planning new developments in this class.

I believe there will be a rapid decline of First Class; Qatar Airways has already made an announcement that they are planning to get rid of their First Class after they retire their A380s.

I read recently the suggestion of an ‘Isolation Class’ and the name suggests it will be fitted with a personal ventilator! The article went on to say that some passengers like the idea of travelling in a self-contained unit. This class already exists in Business and First Class so I  don’t believe we will see this class onboard any day soon.

What do you think airlines need to focus on moving forward?

Going forward the most important innovations without a doubt will be green technology. COVID-19 coincided with growing concerns about the climate emergency, and airlines were already under pressure to provide solutions. The race is truly on to find greener aviation fuel and develop hydrogen-powered aircraft.  Airlines will of course become greener as they use more environment friendly jets Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s and Airbus A350’s and fly fewer routes, but the pressure to find truly greener alternatives is real.

This being the case suppliers will be seeking alternatives to the plastic items still found in most amenity kits, plastic comb, folding hairbrush, toothbrush’s as well as tubes of toothpaste and cosmetics. To be fair, many had already started the move away from single use plastic but as with most green technology the investment cost increases so airlines will need to start investing more in onboard amenities in the coming years.

Do you think the onboard passenger experience will change as they return to travelling? 

There have been a number of suggestions over the last couple of months, including air vents in headrests, and seat dividers that range from cardboard to plastic to encourage separation between passengers.

However, I think in reality the biggest change passenger will notice is that cabins will be cleaner as airlines clean them more regularly, and more thoroughly. Alongside this, I think the wearing of masks by both passengers and crew will remain, and inflight services will continue to be reduced to mitigate the number of touch points throughout a journey.

Passengers may also an increase in the offering of use of single use items; for example a dental kit being available in the onboard lavatories along with hand sanitizer.

What is the future of the cherished amenity kit?

That’s an interesting question. I strongly believe amenity kits across all cabin classes will need to reflect the new shift towards passenger wellness and hygiene whilst being sustainable. The challenge facing suppliers is how to deliver this whilst still delivering the wow factor. Airlines may well look to align themselves with brands more associated with personal wellness and hygiene rather than the luxury brands we have seen over recent years.

I am confident that kits will stay but not as we know them. I would expect to see more personalisation, a higher quality of product inside the kits and more tailored content to really provide passengers what they need depending on what time of day or night they fly.

Can you expand of what you mean by great personalisation of amenities?

The pandemic has seen airlines making a seismic shift in using passenger data to provide a more personalised food service and help to eliminate food waste when it comes to onboard dining. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg as airlines start to realise the true potential of this passenger data.

As passengers can now pre order their food and drinks why not then their onboard amenities? There is no reason this can’t apply to every passenger regardless of class of travel. Airlines may well develop new revenue channels by pre-selling onboard amenities to passengers in economy class.

How do you think the pandemic will affect the supply chain?

As the number of destinations are reduced and airlines trim fleets to match demand, experts forecast a 30% reduction of capacity across the industry with possibly a ¼ of loss-making routes axed.

With less competition and airlines flying certain routes, the long term trajectory is for fares to increase as business travel takes longer to recover, which currently accounts for more than half of most airlines profits.

The effect of reduced capacity and decline in routes will require suppliers to change and adapt as most current business models are based on volume to keep unit costs competitive. Reducing the quantity will squeeze the already tight margins.

Couple this with the passenger demand for more sustainable items, in the short term we may see a number of suppliers absorb the cost but eventually airlines will need to start to invest more in their onboard passenger amenities. As passenger fares increase any additional investment required could well be incorporated in the fare.

You postponed the TravelPlus Airline Amenity Awards this year why?

It became apparent to me early on in the year that airlines were cancelling new product launches and postponing tenders due to the pandemic. In September we reached out to the industry to canvas opinions, which confirmed to me the need to delay for 12 months, during which time I hope that there will be more products on the market, and air travel will be on the path to resurgence.

I did consider moving them to coincide with the rescheduled WTCE as some suggested however, I felt this would still be too early in the potential recovery of the industry. So if all goes to plan we will be back in Hamburg in 2022.

It became apparent to me early on in the year that airlines were cancelling new product launches and postponing tenders due to the pandemic. In September we reached out to the industry to canvas opinions, which confirmed to me the need to delay for 12 months, during which time I hope that there will be more products on the market, and air travel will be on the path to resurgence.

I did consider moving them to coincide with the rescheduled WTCE as some suggested however, I felt this would still be too early in the potential recovery of the industry. So if all goes to plan we will be back in Hamburg in 2022.

SIMON’S HOT PICK

What is your favourite city?  Rio for its Bossa Nova music in my favourite bar – the Bip Bip Bar.

What is your favourite amenity kit of all time? The British Airways Gladstone style leather bag designed by Anya Hindmarch.

Your favourite onboard tipple? A dark rum, ginger beer and lime over ice.

Where is your favourite place to go on vacation? Wherever my wife decides as she has the knack of choosing the right spot that can cater for the whole family.