Uncategorized December 17, 2009

What's the future for air travel?

Air Travel

Now I’ve travelled a few air miles in my time – I’m ashamed to say that I held ‘million mile’ status with not one, but TWO airlines. During the past ten years I’ve flown with most american airlines, lots of asian airlines, many budget airlines and with the major airlines across europe. I’ve enjoyed the flagship lounges of Virgin (groovy), American Airlines (boring but functional), BA (too busy and again, very boring) and lots of others around the globe.

Two years ago I decided that I’d had enough of waiting in queues and spending weekends in departure lounges or large business hotels around the world (all of the best ones are in Asia – no question). I quit a very well paid job and changed my lifestyle to specifically cut out the international travel, and build a more ‘local’ life back in the UK. For a while I became an EasyJet frequent flyer, so my world went from great airport lounges and 5-star hotels to ‘Speedy Boarding’ (what a joke) and the local Premier Inn (actually a great budget hotel chain – if you need to go budget, go Premier Inn). But now my world is on a train or on the A34 – boring, but generally simple and uneventful.

But last week I flew from London to Los Angeles on British Airways - the first major flight I have done for some time. I flew from BA’s ‘new’ terminal at Heathrow. Now the terminal is everything you’d expect from a modern airport – a huge cathedral of steel and glass, with vast floor space to wander around in and lots of glitzy shopping if you want it. But I have to say that the whole experience, from check in to arrival served to reinforce one basic conclusion – that air travel remains a very tedious, stressful, wasteful and disappointing experience. I think the current climate change argument to reduce our hunger for air travel may have merit, but actually for many people (including myself), air travel is simply something to avoid wherever possible – it’s just not a positive experience. For those of you who are frequent air travellers, I dare you to sit down and add up how many days of your life have been spent getting to/from an airport, waiting in an airport and sitting in seat 42G next to the toilet – the one with the broken video screen and dark brown stain.

So my recent air-travel experience got me thinking. What is the future for air travel? Will the climate change argument force governments to look at their policies in this area to restrict air travel or use taxation to reduce our hunger for it? Will new technology really allow us to meet on-line, collaborate, socialise etc. and reduce the need to travel (we’ve had this promise for many years now – is it happening)? Will our supermarkets stop flying basic foods around the world and focus on more local, sustainable practices (is this an air-travel issue or a farming issue or a climate issue)? And will the security situation at airports remain as-is, relax a little or worsen ? I’m just waiting for the day when some terrorist invents a way to turn clothing into weapons, then we’ll all have to strip naked to get through airport security – and no, this is not a suggestion/idea.

I will be very interested to see how British Airways responds to its current challenges. Many american airlines have responded to falling profits by cutting service in all sorts of areas. The end result is very poorly paid staff, aircraft that packed full and are showing the obvious signs of wear and tear. The food now served on most airlines (including British Airways and Virgin) is just awful. OK, I know that you don’t choose an airline for the quality of its in-flight catering, but honestly, what is the point? I’d rather pay £10 (or more) directly for some decent food. Of course, BA now have more important things to worry about. If the planned cabin crew strike does go ahead, how much more damage will that do to their bookings and revenue? But the important issue is how will they solve the underlying problem – how do they come up with a revised/new business model that reflects the new economy we’re now in, and how do they transition their business to this new world and keep their customers, staff and shareholders happy?  

So, let me finish by posing some questions – I’d be very interested in some feedback on any of the following...

    1. What’s your view on air travel?

    1. What do you think the future is for air travel?

    1. What do you think BA should do to succeed?

    1. What’s your best (or worst) airline experience?



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