But as we walk these quiet streets going to the grocery store or doing some essential exercise, the silence is still broken by the distant intermittent hum of a jet engine in the sky above.
Where do these planes go, who is on board and why?
Chances are, any plane you spot now carries stranded nationals on the way home (yes, there are still a lot of repatriation flights in May), or doctors, to the Covid-19 hotspots . The other main reason airplanes in the sky are cargo flights, filled with food, medicine, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It would be irresponsible at the moment to promote non-essential travel,” said Abby Penston, CEO of the British travel consortium Focus Travel Partnership. However, as the lockdown continues, “We are starting to see that technology has its place, but that is not the end. People have to travel, people have to meet, people have to connect. “
As measures are implemented at airports to detect potentially sick passengers before the flight and measures are taken on board to limit the transmission of the virus among passengers and crew, some airlines offer skeletal services to facilitate essential travel, deploying gradually as we head summer.
Here’s what air travel looks like now and in the months to come: which airlines fly where, why and how.
Whatever the metric, airline network activity is a fraction of what it was this time last year.
On May 9, the United States Transport Security Administration only registered 170,000 passengers, down 1.8 million from 2019. In Europe, low-cost airline Ryanair says it plans to operate less than 1% of its scheduled flight program this quarter. And Australian group Qantas says it currently operates about 5% of its national passenger network before the crisis and about 1% of its international connections.
Due to the fact that most passenger aircraft are immobilized – and generally transport food and other income-generating goods, in addition to your suitcases – there is a significant worldwide shortage of passenger carrying capacity. merchandise. Therefore, what appear to be passenger planes flying in the sky are often airliners that have been adapted to carry essential supplies and PPE.
The Lufthansa Group, for example, claims that in this context of canceled passenger flights, many of its passenger aircraft are now used exclusively for freight, including the converted Lufthansa A330s and A350s and the B777s and two B767s from Austrian Airlines.
SWISS plans to cut the economy seats of four of its Boeing 777s to boost freight capacity and, at Austrian Airlines, two 777s are being reconfigured into “Prachters” (passenger aircraft transformed into cargo aircraft).
In Tokyo, All Nippon Airways (ANA) flies masks, combinations of hazardous materials and test kits on its passenger seats and in the air compartments on its Shanghai-Haneda flights, allowing the airline to carry approximately 1.4 times more freight.
When international borders started to close in March, airlines quickly canceled flights to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Millions of vacationers and business travelers have found themselves trapped abroad.
Most repatriation flights took place in March and April, but as some borders only open now, these flights continue in May and June, as restrictions slowly ease.
Air India, the most publicized of these operations this month, is about to repatriate thousands of Indian nationals on 64 flights as part of the country’s global mission Vande Bharat, planned by the Indian government.
United Airlines is hosting its second repatriation flight of the month from Belize City on May 14, and airBaltic has scheduled flights in mid-May for entrepreneurs who need to steal employees between Latvia and Amsterdam. Scheduled Qantas flights through May and June will help customers get home and facilitate essential travel from Los Angeles to Melbourne and Brisbane, and London to Melbourne and Perth.
The flying doctor
Since April, Delta Airlines has allowed doctors to travel for free to the most affected areas of the United States. 350 people have booked flights to nearly 30 states and two Canadian provinces.
Deloitte is contributing to this effort by donating unused ticket balances from the company to fund travel, and financial advisor is also donating unused ticket balances on Southwest Airlines to help health care professionals traveling to treat patients from Covid-19.
In an independent initiative in Thailand, medical personnel traveling between May 15 and July 31 on Bangkok Airways are entitled to a 20% discount on normal air fares upon presentation of valid medical identification at the counter. recording.
Attract passengers in the sky
Airlines, such as KLM, are slowly starting to put flesh on the bones of their skeletal services. In March, the Dutch operator’s air operations were cut to less than 10%, but it now operates 15% of its originally planned network.
Some airlines even plan to meet pent-up demand when travel restrictions are relaxed.
With the aim of re-mobilizing the European low-cost airline sector, Wizz Air recently announced the launch of six new routes between June and October, from London-Luton to the popular holiday destinations of Corfu, Heraklion, Rhodes, Zakynthos, Faro and Marrakech.
“Wizz Air is currently operating at 10% capacity,” the airline spokesperson told CNN Travel. “In the UK, Wizz Air recently resumed flights from its Luton base to destinations such as Budapest, Bourgas, Lisbon, Sofia, Tenerife, Tel Aviv and Varna. “
The airline also operates cargo flights from China, primarily to Hungary, to support the containment of Covid-19 by transporting PPE.
Lufthansa craft on a runway at Frankfurt Airport in May 2020.
Michael Probst / AP
In Germany, Lufthansa currently offers around 40 daily connections from its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich. The Frankfurt – London Heathrow program offers two daily return flights – not repatriation flights, but part of the “limited service” recently launched by Lufthansa.
Worldwide, Lufthansa currently offers 15 weekly long distance connections: three times a week each from Frankfurt to Newark and Chicago, Sao Paulo, Bangkok and Tokyo. In its new reduced schedule, Lufthansa will fly from Frankfurt to Athens, Porto and Gothenburg from May 18 and Lufthansa’s domestic flights from Munich will be doubled.
From its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, it now offers a total of 330 weekly connections to cities in Germany and Europe.
In anticipation of the June calendar, the Lufthansa group plans to reactivate 80 aircraft in response to its customers’ growing interest in air transport, as restrictions are lifted, doubling the number of aircraft it will fly in may.
In Thailand, Bangkok Airways resumes its domestic flights from May 15 with a twice-daily schedule Bangkok – Samui (round trip) to meet the essential needs of passengers.
The operations will follow strict security measures and guidelines for social distancing established by the Ministry of Public Health and the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand. The airline said the reopening of Sukhothai and Trat airports and other routes will be announced later.
Alexandre de Juniac of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that the coronavirus pandemic will end the days of cheap flights.
At Qatar Airways, the focus has been on keeping flights to more than 30 destinations where possible, repatriating more than one million people and transporting more than 100,000 tonnes of medical supplies and supplies. essential help.
“Throughout this crisis, our passengers have been at the center of our concerns,” said airline director general Akbar Al Baker. “As we monitor the global travel market indicators on a daily basis, we continue to focus on our mission – how we can enable the mobility of our customers and provide them with seamless connectivity to their final destination. ”
The airline says it plans to expand its network to more than 50 destinations by the end of May, including the resumption of services to Manila, Amman and Nairobi.
And by the end of June, Qatar Airways aims to serve 80 destinations, including 23 in Europe, four in the Americas, 20 in the Middle East / Africa and 33 in Asia-Pacific.
In New Zealand, as the country prepares to enter alert level 2 (the phase where Covid-19 is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains), Air New Zealand (ANZ) intends to exploit approximately 20% of its usual interior capacity.
This means re-establishing flights to Queenstown, Invercargill and Blenheim in the South Island and Rotorua, Gisborne, Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Hamilton, Whangarei and Kerikeri in the north.
These flights are in addition to existing flights to support essential service travel between Auckland and Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga and Napier, as well as between Wellington-Christchurch, Wellington-Nelson and Christchurch-Dunedin.
“We wanted to start domestic air services as soon as possible to support New Zealand’s economic recovery and connect family, friends and businesses,” said airline boss Greg Foran, “but the rise in power to higher frequencies will be a slow journey. ”
And that will come at a price, because the social distance of one meter from alert level 2 means that ANZ can only sell just under 50% of the seats on a turboprop and only 65% on its A320s.
“To ensure that we cover our operating costs, we will not be able to offer our lowest entry prices until social distancing measures are removed,” said Foran.
Air France planes at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, photographed on March 24, 2020.
Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images
At Air France, since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, the company has adapted its schedules and its network, combining repatriation flights with essential passenger and logistics services, particularly in the French overseas departments.
“At a time when we could have cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, we decided to maintain a minimum flight schedule to support our customers who are in urgent need of travel and to help all those who are stranded around the world and who wish come home, “said Air France executive vice president Amel Hammouda during an interview on social media.
Since March 14, the airline has repatriated more than 250,000 people and continues to serve destinations in mainland France, overseas and 35 other destinations around the world, which represents less than 5% of Air France’s usual capacity. .
“We continue to transport medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and food and bring back a variety of fruits and vegetables,” says Hammouda.
To facilitate this, the airline has deployed a mix of specially adapted Boeing 777 and 777 passenger aircraft, where the seats have been fitted with additional straps and nets to allow the safe transit of supplies.
As aviation tentatively envisions an era in which passenger aircraft return to transport people instead of cargo, the recovery of air travel will depend not only on logistical and economic factors, but also on the inclination of passengers to fly.
This means giving people a sense of confidence that the airlines and the wider air travel ecosystem are doing their best to protect against Covid-19 throughout the entire journey.
Penston of Focus Travel Partnership says the time is right for the travel community of airlines, airports, travel management companies, hoteliers, travel technology companies, professional associations and government agencies. sit down and work together in a collective and coordinated way to get everyone out of this crisis in a responsible way.
“Embracing the culture of the whole travel community to make sure we all work to the same standards and goals will help us get out of the far side of the situation much stronger,” she said.
“Industry and industry colleagues say they are ready to return to reasonable normalcy. I think normality will be different, but I think the need to travel and the need to meet has never been more appreciated than it is right now. ”