Covid-19 has seriously affected airlines - from job cuts to bankruptcy, it is also providing fertile conditions for innovation at the same time. Problem-solving requires creativity, and creativity means coming up with new ideas. Globetrender took a brief and delivered eight trends which will take off in 2021.


1. Pleasure flight

In the Asia-Pacific region, airlines have been operating round-trip “flights to nowhere” in a bid to generate extra revenue. Trend setters include Qantas, ANA, China Airlines, Hong Kong Express and EVA Air. Qantas’ first scenic flights took off and landed in Sydney, and allowed passengers to spot some of Australia's most iconic sites from the air. The seven-hour journey included low-level flybys of Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Byron Bay and Sydney Harbour. 134 tickets costing between A$575 (£314) and A$2,765 (£1,513) were made available for “probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history,” a Qantas spokeswoman said.

2. No refunds 

As the pandemic shows little sign of abating in much of the world and airline debt mounts, many carriers will cease to offer refunds. With many airlines insisting on issuing vouchers instead of returning cash, consumers will in effect be propping up the industry with money from their own pockets. Governments and airline regulators will have to assess whether or not to force airlines to provide refunds, at the possible cost of their survival.

3. Airport rapid testing

In October, United began trial rapid Covid-19 testing for passengers travelling from San Francisco to Hawaii, allowing them to bypass quarantine requirements by delivering results in just 15 minutes. Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United, said: “We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and US airports later this year.” Rapid airport testing will be the key to unlocking international air travel.

4. Grounded catering

A handful of airlines have spotted demand among aerophiles for making their in-flight catering available on the ground. Thai Airways kickstarted the trend back in April 2020, selling meal boxes from Bangkok airport, then offering airline food at its Royal Orchid Dining Experience restaurant. Singapore Airlines has also been experimenting with using airline catering as a new revenue stream. In late September, it launched first class meal kits for as much as S$888 (£500) to cook and eat at home. Finnair, meanwhile, has turned to selling pre-packaged business class meals in grocery stores in Finland. Cathay Pacific and Garuda Indonesia have also been dabbling in this trend.


5. Flying private

Flying private is booming. In the age of germaphobia, private jets are perceived as offering less risk of Covid-19 contagion than commercial airlines, as there are far fewer touchpoints and people to come into contact with. This means private jets will continue to be extremely popular among wealthier people, regardless of their carbon footprint. According to LUXX Media’s, Ultra Affluent Consumer Survey, 79 percent of ultra-high networth individuals are more inclined than before to travel by private jet. The result is that first-time users are a flourishing new market segment. While Vistajet has partnered with medical tech company RDT, and international SOS company MedAire to become the first charter operator to add health monitors on board its entire international fleet of private jets. In October, the Nautilus Maldives private island resort partnered with Dominvs Aviation to provide nonstop Bombardier 6000 flights departing at guests’ convenience from a quiet, secure private jet terminal at one of London’s business airports for £26,900 per person.


Sanitisation programs have become a number one priority but over the coming months and years, aircraft interiors will be made “safe” with anti-viral/bacterial coatings. American Airlines has been leading the way with SurfaceWise2, which is being applied to aircraft interiors via electrostatic spraying. United has been deploying a similar antimicrobial coating called Zoono Antimicrobial Shield to the insides of its planes. Dr. Charles Gerba, an infectious disease expert, says: “SurfaceWise2 creates an invisible barrier on surfaces, which physically breaks down and kills virus cells. This helps protect passengers and crew members against the transmission of coronavirus via surfaces, particularly on high-touch areas such as seats, armrests, tray tables and overhead bin doors.”


Real-estate has always been at a premium onboard airlines but in the viral age, sectioned off private cabins will be a highly desirable luxury for which airlines will be able to charge top dollar. Air France La Première and the newest version of Emirates first class provided private areas. According to Globetrender’s Future of Business Travel report, which surveyed more than 2,000 international frequent flyers, 75 percent of respondents said that being able to fly first or business class would make them more likely to travel for work in the future. This was second only to there being a Covid-19 vaccine (80 percent). Visionary design firm PriestmanGoode is seeking to solve this with its new concept for business class Pure Skies Rooms, which sees passengers seated in private booths separated by full height curtains. Seats shields for economy and premium economy are also being developed by Factory Design and Aviointeriors.


The roll-out of biometric technology is being accelerated by the pandemic. Now, facilities ranging from Ethiopian Airlines’ new terminal expansion at Addis Ababa to Singapore’s famous Changi International are embracing contactless gateways that are unlocked by passenger smartphones and biometrics such as facial and iris recognition. Over at Dubai International airport, Emirates has unveiled a seamless “biometric path” that allows travellers to “check in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates lounge, and board their flights, simply by strolling through the airport”.  In October, Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport in France launched an entirely contactless biometric experience in partnership with Idemia. It won’t be long until your face is your passport and boarding pass. In China, the SITA Smart Path promises shorter queues and greater social distancing thanks to more than 600 biometric checkpoints. The technology has also been deployed at Hamad International airport in Qatar and Kuala Lumpur International airport in Malaysia.