The aviation industry is experiencing unprecedented impacts from COVID-19. The pandemic has created extraordinary disruption, and the aviation industry is experiencing significant effects that crippled air traffic across the globe. In fact, in its Aug. 7 industry update[i], Airlines for America reports that for the week ending Aug. 2, 2020, U.S. domestic air travel remained down 72 percent, and international 89 percent as compared to the same time period in 2019. This disruption is also accelerating change across the aviation ecosystem. Airports, airlines, and aviation security organizations such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been rapidly forced to adjust their operations to protect passengers and employees, while helping to instill confidence that the airport environment remains safe. For aviation organizations to recover, and even thrive, in the post-COVID-19 environment, they should take targeted actions to not just protect passengers but ensure the health and safety of their employees as well.
Aviation passengers and employees are fearful of the risks they may encounter in the airport. In Gallup’s July 2020 Air Traveler Sentiment Survey[ii] of 10,000 U.S. adults, of those who flew at least once a year pre-COVID-19, 52 percent say they would not be comfortable flying. Similarly, airport workers express concerns over safety when returning to customer-facing roles, pointing to the need for aviation organizations to take targeted action to not just provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees, but also empower employees to voice concerns and make their own choices to protect their health and safety. A June 2020 study conducted by Deloitte Consulting[iii] of over 3,000 employees and 2,000 customers across travel, retail, restaurant and food service, and auto, found that employees find employer measures that empower them to feel in control over their safety and cleanliness to be very important. Understanding (and addressing) needs and concerns of passengers and employees is critical to encouraging return to the skies and, subsequently, will likely play a critical role in driving economic growth as the nation recovers from the pandemic.
Taking a persona approach to understanding the need of passengers and employees can help organizations prioritize limited resources and take specific actions that instill confidence that the airport is safe.
Taking a ‘persona’ approach to examining and understanding the needs of critical ecosystem players can help aviation organizations increase their investment in targeted safety measures and drive greater integration between ecosystem players – all of which can contribute to an accelerated recovery. In this article, we explore three key personas in aviation and explore the following questions:
- What do passengers need to feel safe when returning to the skies, and how can organizations mitigate concerns throughout the passenger journey?
- How can organizations protect the health and safety of customs and screening officers on the front lines and give them confidence that their workplace is safe?
- What can airports and airlines do to protect their employees, particularly those in customer-facing roles that require daily interaction to perform their jobs?
Unique concerns and needs of each persona are driving changes across the aviation ecosystem and, by recognizing this, organizations can execute a series of ‘plays’ to address these needs and concerns.
Each persona has its own set of concerns — and precautions — that can help improve confidence in overall health and safety.
COVID-19 has driven reluctance by many to return to the skies, and many businesses continue to keep employees at home. Despite route availability, this leaves many planes at significantly lower load factors than pre-COVID-19 levels. Airlines for America reports that for the week ending Aug. 2, U.S. flights averaged just 57 passengers per flight, compared to 99 passengers per departure in 2019[iv]. With many steps across the journey outside of the control of a passenger, they remain unsure of their ability to remain safe and social distance across points that traditionally remain crowded, such as airport shuttles, check-in, security screening, boarding, and of course in-flight. To help mitigate concern over health and safety, aviation organizations can map each potential journey step and associated concern for the passenger persona to identify specific measures and communications that can be implemented.
Much like passengers, customs and screening officers experience challenges in physical distancing due to the nature of their roles. From confirming passenger identities to performing physical searches, officers will experience increased interaction with passengers as air traffic resumes. The TSA has continued to implement a series of measures to protect officers, such as eye protection and plexiglass shields, and – in some cases – accelerated deployment of credential authentication technology[v] that reduces interaction between passengers and officers, to protect its employees. However, continuing to explore the concerns of officers as passenger traffic increases is critical. Doing so can help identify specific concerns or needs that can, in part, be addressed through targeted communications or other measures that can instill confidence that their workplace is safe.
Airport employees also experience similar exposure levels as those facing customs and security officers, from taxi stand operators to concessionaires and airport customer experience specialists, or ACES. This is driving many airports to explore touchless options for everything from check in to food ordering, replacing restroom satisfaction buttons with QR codes, and even exploring virtual concierges to provide passenger assistance. Working with employees to understand their specific concerns can help airports and their stakeholders identify other means to continue to mitigate COVID-19-related risks and instill confidence among their employees that their health is protected.
Aviation organizations should continue to recognize and adapt to the changing (and different) needs of employees and stakeholders to drive successful recovery.
Now more than ever, aviation organizations need to be intentional about the interventions that they implement and look for opportunities for cross-ecosystem collaboration to amplify the impact. The following four ‘plays’ can help organizations ‘cut through the noise’ to accelerate recovery:
- Recognize the different personas and that their needs differ. Organizations should seek out new methods for listening to the concerns of their employees and customers and understanding how these concerns can be mitigated to make them more comfortable returning to work and the skies. For example, organizations may consider virtual focus groups to deep dive with specific employee groups around their own concerns, and what it would take to address. Or, they may consider launching a series of surveys that can measure employee sentiment over a period of time to understand the effect that new measures have in driving trust and confidence in safety – and doubling down on efforts that receive the highest scores.
- Utilize a prioritization framework to make investment decisions. Understanding that aviation organizations are all experiencing significant financial losses, any new effort (and many ongoing efforts) should be carefully examined to assess the intended impact and confirm direct alignment to addressing employee and passenger concerns. Organizations should do so in a way that is uncomplicated – selecting five to eight priority objectives by which to evaluate potential and ongoing projects for intended impact.
- Explore new opportunities to collaborate with industry. New innovations that address COVID-19 concerns are emerging every day, with the pandemic accelerating the move toward touchless automation at nearly every step of the journey. Both the TSA’s Innovation Task Force[vi] and the Department of Homeland Security’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP)[vii] are creating avenues for tech innovators to bring their solutions directly to the front lines. Aviation ecosystem players can follow this example to rapidly identify, prototype, and select solutions that address new challenges posed by COVID-19.
- Leverage the power of the ecosystem. COVID-19 is driving unprecedented change across the ecosystem, and stakeholders can amplify the power (and impact) of interventions by collaboratively implementing new efforts that can help address passenger and employee concerns. Based on our review of numerous sentiment studies throughout the pandemic, we believe that organizations may find many commonalities in the concerns expressed by their employees and their customers. Banding together to co-invest in solutions that can help bring relief to these concerns and improve the overall safety of the aviation ecosystem can be far more effective than going at it alone.
So how can aviation begin recovery from the pandemic? This is the question that every stakeholder across the ecosystem is asking as well. With infection rates remaining a continued concern throughout the U.S.[viii], the only certainty is that it will be a long road to recovery. But the actions taken by the aviation ecosystem today can have an important and lasting impact on recovery tomorrow by improving trust and confidence among employees and passengers that their journey is safe. By taking a human approach to recovery and identifying top of mind concerns through the development of personas for key stakeholder groups, aviation organizations can better prioritize investments today, while creating an effective (and integrated) roadmap to recovery.
Alexa Raimondi is a partner in Deloitte & Touche LLP’s Government and Public Services Risk & Financial Advisory Practice and serves as the Lead Client Service Partner for Deloitte’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) account. With nearly two decades of experience, Alexa is a subject matter specialist in business transformation, the digital revolution, system enhancements, and process automation.
Elaine Duke is a specialist executive with Deloitte Consulting LLP. She previously served as acting secretary, deputy secretary, undersecretary for management, and chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She is a member of Homeland Security Today’s Editorial Board.
Liz Krimmel is a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Government and Public Services Practice and serves as Deloitte’s U.S. Airports Leader. She has more than a decade of experience in aviation security and airport customer experience.
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