I have observed 5 ways that commercial air travel has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

  • Airlines are retiring their 4 engine, less fuel efficient, wide body aircraft, such as the B747 and A380.
  • There are less or almost no First Class seats available.
  • Airplanes are cleaner, more so now than they have ever been.
  • We are seeing drastic changes in how the in-flight service is conducted. Hot meals and trays are being replaced by sealed and pre-packaged cold snack boxes.
  • Flying is for essential journeys, not for fun anymore.

1. Goodbye to 4 Engines A380/B747

COVID-19 turned out to be aviation’s biggest farewell party.  Every airline currently has a surplus of planes, and they need to conserve cash, so they are retiring the most costly ones, which of course are the 4 engine A380s and B747s.

Right now there are almost no A380s flying in the sky! 97% of all A380s are in storage. Air France have retired their A380 fleet completely. The CEO of Qatar Airways has said that their A380s won't be back in the sky until 2022, at the earliest.

Air France A380 fleet have been retired
Air France A380 fleet have been retired

Emirates, which has over 120 A380s in their fleet, are only using the B777 at the moment. From 15th July Emirates will bring back their iconic A380 on the London and Paris route from Dubai, one daily flight each.

During COVID-19, we have seen airlines like KLM and Qantas have accelerate their B747 fleet retirement plan. Qantas have announced a series of farewell 747 flights in Australia.

Boeing have just announced the end of the B747 Program yesterday. There are just 16 B747s on order, all of them are freighters.

Boeing 747 Program Close - End of the 4 engine airplanes era
Boeing 747 Program Close - End of the 4 engine airplanes era

2. The Days of First Class Are Gone

With removal of most A380s and B747s from active flying, airlines are using their smaller, more fuel efficient, aircraft; with A350s and B787s doing the majority of long haul flying. As a result, there is less First Class inventory at the moment. The current demand for First Class is also low. Most airlines are only offering 2 class aircraft at the moment. Etihad is removing their First Class inventory completely for this year.

Etihad First Class are not available this year
Etihad First Class is not available this year

3. Airplanes Are Cleaner Than Ever

You have probably seen videos showing how most airlines are making a huge effort in cleaning their planes, planes are probably the cleanest they have been since they were new. Airlines are also removing contact points at every stage of the journey.

Airlines are removing contact points at every point of the journey. Image United
Airlines are removing contact points at every point of the journey. Image United

Airlines such as Emirates are adding additional flight attendants, to clean the bathroom every 90 minutes.

Emirates Flight Attendant wearing PPE, mask, gloves and face cover. Image Emirates
Emirates Flight Attendant wearing PPE, mask, gloves and face cover. Image Emirates

Social Distancing Dosen’t Work in The Air?

Most airlines will argue that social distancing doesn't work in the air, or at least as it would on the ground. Most airlines are selling all of the seats; blocking out middle seats is very detrimental to the bottom line of an airline, especially in a challenging financial time like now.

Instead, you have to wear a mask to fly. Most airlines are enforcing this rule. No Mask, No Fly. Airlines or airports are now handing out hygiene kits containing gloves, a face mask, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser.

Emirates Hygiene Kit
Emirates Hygiene Kit

4. Significant Downgrade on In-Flight Catering

We have seen some significant downgrades on the in-flight service, especially in meals and beverages.

The new keyword for meals is "sealed and wrapped". The food now comes in pre-packaged snack bags or in a snack box.

On-board US Domestic flights, the First Class passenger will now get a snack box instead of a tray with a hot entree. Economy passengers are getting a bag with a bottle of water and a snack

United Airlines Domestic Economy Class Snack Bag Content
United Airlines Domestic Economy Class Snack Bag Content

Forget about the champagne flutes, wine glasses or even coffee mugs. Beverages will be individual bottled water only – no alcohol offerings – across all cabins, with only plastic cups available and also no ice on offer.

Flyers are welcome to bring their own food and beverage on-board to enjoy during their travels.

I have collected some up-to-date in-flight meal service info from the following airlines.

British Airways

British Airways unveiled a host of changes to their on-board dining experience. In all classes, meals will no longer be served in individual courses; each passenger will instead receive a snack box consistent with their class of travel.

Only First Class will receive a hot meal; while Business, Premium Economy and Economy will only receive a cold meal. Moreover, the meal box is the same in Premium Economy and Economy.

BA First Class Meal Box
BA First Class Meal Box
BA Club World Meal Box
BA Club World Meal Box
BA Economy Meal Box
BA Economy Meal Box

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines will be downgrading all their in-flight catering options. Each class will be served a snack box or bag, this will only be on flights longer than two hours.

Catering options will be vastly similar to those on British Airways, as both airlines are catered by Do&Co. All the following details are courtesy of ISTFlyer on the FlyerTalk forum.

Turkish Airlines current Business Class meal
Turkish Airlines current Business Class meal
Turkish Airlines current Economy Class meal
Turkish Airlines current Economy Class meal
Turkish Airlines current Economy Class snack bag
Turkish Airlines current Economy Class snack bag

Emirates

  • Single-use menu in First Class and Business Class
  • All cutlery is being hygienically sealed
  • Hot Towel service suspended, replaced with disposable refreshing towels offered in First Class and Business Class.
  • Hot meals served on all flights for First Class passengers.
  • Hot meals served for Business Class Passengers on all flights over 1 hour 30 minutes.
  • Hot meals served for Economy Class Passengers on all flights over 2 hours 30 minutes.
  • Where there are no hot meals, customers are offered packed sandwiches, beverages, snacks and desserts.
  • On-board bar is closed.
Current Emirates Economy Class Meal
Current Emirates Economy Class Meal

Etihad

Etihad are claiming that their meal standards for all classes are being maintained, clarified in the below statement.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines has also made sweeping changes to the food service on-board their aircraft. On long-haul flights, beyond Asia, all meals will be served sealed, to avoid any risk of contamination. In addition, offerings will be simplified and fewer accompaniments will be served with the meals.

The satay, appetiser, main entree and dessert will all be served on one tray; instead of the course by course offering, as is usual in Business Class.

On flights to China and Southeast Asia, passengers will be served a snack bag with items such as sandwiches, fruit, potato crisps, etc. Singapore Airlines has said that these snack bags will replace full meals “due to regulatory requirements”.

ANA

No Significant changes on the meals served. The only difference is the food is now served with sealed covers on top. The bread served is individually wrapped and sealed.

ANA Economy Class Meal
ANA Economy Class Meal

5. Flying is For Essential Journeys, Less Fun and More Sombre

On my recent domestic flight, everyone was wearing a mask and sitting quietly away from others. It was a quiet, sombre experience without the usual chatter and laughter. Everyone was trying to avoid contact with other passengers.

International Flying will require a lot of cumbersome research, frustrating paperwork, travel approvals and even a COVID tests. You may have to go into quarantine for 14 days on arrival, regardless of your test results, which all makes flying a far more serious consideration. You can’t just jump on a plane last minute like you could before. Flying is for essential travel, not for fun anymore.

Video

Have you been on a plane recently? How was your experience? Please share with us here in the comment.

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