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From cutting-edge technology to political uncertainty, a surprisingly diverse array of factors is in play that will affect how air travel is managed, sold and experienced in 2020 and beyond. Just as surprisingly, some of the upcoming developments might actually make things easier for travel advisors looking to increase their revenue from selling air travel. Here are the five top trends in the skies for the coming year, based on insight from a variety of industry observers, surveys and studies.
Technology and Sustainability Are Changing the Game The gradual adoption of biometrics — including facial, iris and fingerprint scans — in areas such as check-in, security and boarding will continue to streamline travel, according to business process management provider WNS.
Air travelers, meanwhile, appear increasingly willing to take extra steps in favor of sustainable travel, according to Flight of the Future, a survey and study by British Airways. Conducted as part of the carrier’s 100th anniversary celebration, the report finds that 43% of respondents are willing to pay more for a flight that produces fewer emissions, while 45% would fly longer or take a slower flight if it’s the most environmentally sustainable option. The report also predicts that virtual reality and artificial intelligence will begin to enhance the flying experience in the coming months and years.
Airfares Will StabilizeNew research from travel research and management firm CWT and the Global Business Travel Association predicts that airfares will stabilize in 2020, rising only 1.2%. Still, a Travel Leaders survey reports that airfare pricing is the second most challenging issue for air travelers, right after cramped legroom and small seat size.
“The consumer will lose some transparency about what is the best price and the best value,” said Peter Vitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Travel Leaders Group (TLG), noting the effect of growing alliances and continued consolidation, such as Delta Air Lines’ plans to buy up to a 20% stake in LATAM Airlines Group.
Airlines Face Uncertainty The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max will continue to affect airlines into the new year, but the Max is far from the industry’s only question mark for 2020, according to TLG’s Vitas.
“Right now, the biggest challenges we’re going to face are the U.S. going through an election year and impeachment; Brexit in the U.K.; and the Real ID requirements in the U.S., because people have to make sure they have that by October 2020,” he said. “That will all have some sort of impact on air travel.”
Industry eyes will also be on Europe, according to Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group.
“Though U.S. airlines are generally in good economic shape, we saw three European airlines collapse within a few weeks, plus Wow Air’s collapse earlier in the year,” he said. “I think it’s fair to wonder whether we will see that trend continue.”
Service Is Getting an UpgradeFlyers in the front of the cabin will continue to have it good. Starting next year, for example, United Airlines will allow first-class customers to preselect meals up to 24 hours before their flight.
Developments like this make the role of the travel advisor more important, according to Steve Wooster, managing director of services and air operations for Virtuoso.
“As carriers continue to differentiate, they need to rely on advisors,” he said. “It’s an advisor’s responsibility to explain the nuances and details that resonate with a client’s taste.”
Following Delta’s introduction this year of SkyMiles Select, a fee-based frequent flyer benefits program, Harteveldt predicts similar innovations.
“I expect we’ll see the ongoing dilution of airline frequent flyer programs,” he said. “Airlines will introduce more subscription-based products such as SkyMiles Select, which may make it more difficult for the general public to buy some of the products they want.”
Travel Advisors May Be Happier Advisors may find a few new things to smile about in 2020, according to Harteveldt.
“Travel agents should keep an eye on Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines as they continue to battle with each another along the West Coast, especially in California,” Harteveldt said, adding that new distribution capability (NDC) may provide new sales opportunities. “Advisors should expect more airlines to make more NDC-enabled content available, which should, if done right, make it easier for agents to sell airline ancillary products to their clients from their GDS or preferred distribution platform.”
The DetailsAlaska Airlineswww.alaskaair.com
Delta Air Lineswww.delta.com
Travel Leaders Groupwww.travelleaders.com