Monday marked a major milestone in airlines’ recovery from the pandemic, as a federal judge in Florida overturned the mask mandate on public transport, prompting major carriers including American Airlines, Delta and United to drop their own mask requirements for travel.
With Covid cases dropping across the U.S., passengers are now feeling more confident about traveling by plane. Bookings are already at about 90% of pre-pandemic levels and early indications show that the removal of mask-wearing requirements will help spur a renewed surge in passenger numbers.
Many airlines have been busy preparing for this resurgence by working to improve the flying experience for their customers. For many Americans, it will have been a while since they last flew by air and some passengers may yet need convincing to drop their Zoom calls and get on a plane again.
One such carrier is American Airlines, who is hoping to boost the travel experience for its customers by turning to the old comedian’s staple of airline food. In March, the airline announced it was bringing in dietician Ellie Krieger and award-winning chef Julia Coney to design new in-flight menus for first class passengers, as well as for its Flagship Lounges. Coney is also a renowned wine expert and will be choosing a new wine list for passengers to enjoy on long-haul and international flights.
United Airlines, by contrast, is turning to technology in a bid to smoothen the experience for its passengers before they even step on a plane. The carrier has teamed up with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to monitor customer wait times at Newark Liberty International Airport and dispatch staff more effectively in order to speed up check-in. They’re also optimising the use of ground service equipment by attaching electronic tags to over 20,000 assets. This allows the airline to monitor what equipment is in use when and helps avoid unnecessary delays.
Alaska Airlines have taken a similar approach, using technology to help make check-in and boarding more efficient. The carrier is now trialling self-service bag drop stations at San Jose International Airport, where passengers will be able to quickly print off their own baggage stickers using iPads and avoid lengthy queues. The system is similar to those being trialled in airports across Europe.
The most extensive improvements, however, are being undertaken by Delta Air Lines, which in 2017 announced a $2.3 billion expansion project at its terminals in Los Angeles International Airport. With passenger numbers down during the pandemic construction sped up massively and the project is now expected to be completed by mid-2023 – 18 months ahead of schedule!
The renovation consists of a new corridor between terminals 2 and 3 at LAX, increasing floor space from 600,000 square feet to over 1.2 million. It also adds 11 new passenger gates to the terminals, helping to ease congestion at the nation’s second busiest airport. In addition, the corridor will serve as a more direct connection between terminals 2 and 3, as well as the Tom Bradley International Terminal, cutting transition time down by up to 20 minutes.
While the full extent of the project won’t be ready until next year, on Wednesday Delta unveiled its new Sky Club Lounge at LAX – opening in plenty of time for the summer travel rush. The lounge is Delta’s biggest sky club to date, with over 30,000 square feet and seating for over 500 passengers. The furnishings are all brand new, with CNN describing the space as “bright, modern, fresh and the ultimate location to relax before your flight.”
The new lounge will be available to Delta Sky Club members, as well as passengers with a Delta SkyMiles Reserve or Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express credit card. Inside they will be able to take advantage of the lounge’s two buffet areas, multiple bars, “coffee grotto”, showers, and charging stations. The Sky Club Lounge even has its own outdoor terrace, the Sky Deck, boasting a full outdoor bar and some of the best views over Los Angeles.
After a very long two-and-a-half years, it looks as if Americans can finally look forward to their first hassle free summer of travel. Along with their passengers, airlines are clearly excited for this return to normality and keen to offer their customers the best possible experience upon their return to the skies.