Aviation needs a perspective

The scolding of politicians, which seems like stigmatizing travelers, must end. 800,000 jobs depend on German aviation. Any employee whose job can be retained by a softer tone in the debate would be grateful.

Three police officers walk through the empty Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr suspected it early on: aviation will be one of the last industries to emerge from the pandemic crisis. But the corona consequences for this mode of transport are even more serious than Spohr feared. People avoid air travel, which shows the emptiness in the terminals. The bookings show what the infection figures suggest: the reluctance will take longer. The Frankfurt airport operator Fraport expects only 35 to 45 percent of pre-crisis traffic in the coming year. However, Lufthansa only sees opportunities for a positive cash flow when half of the capacity is in use again. The outlook could hardly be more gloomy.

The need leads to the question of why people avoid the plane. It would be too simple to just refer to the fear of infection. It’s a mix for several reasons. Of course, concern about a disease of (or with) which more than a million people have died plays an important role. But there is also the fact that trips can hardly be planned. Existing, new or repealed risk areas, including state regulation, form a barely manageable mess. That stirs up fears of being stranded somewhere. It should also not be underestimated that at the beginning of the pandemic, passengers learned how they were let down by the travel agent. Anyone who had to chase after a legitimate reclaim or received a flight cancellation because it was no longer worth taking off for the airline mistrusts promises that this will not happen again.

Safety on board is not at all bad thanks to special air filters, a mask requirement and hygiene rules. The industry has admitted 44 corona cases. In view of 1.2 billion passengers around the world, the number is only good as a warning to be careful, not as a reason for restrictions. The risk of catching the virus on the ground is much greater. However, in addition to the time on board, air travel also includes staying at the destination. This is why companies no longer send their business travelers off, vacationers hesitate to wander into the distance.

Travel is made as unattractive as possible

It is all the more astonishing how much verve politicians are working on further warnings and restrictions – and almost forgetting that the majority of infections occur in private rooms and at large celebrations. Still wanting to regulate vacations and flights over and over again seems like actionism. The population shies away from flying for the time being anyway. There shouldn’t be a wave of travel and infections even if regulation is more cautious. Nevertheless, trips are made as unattractive as possible. Flights are not prohibited, but anyone who lands from a risk area from next week has to be in forced quarantine – regardless of whether they want to pay for a test themselves. Travelers had previously experienced that registration or inquiries when returning home could be avoided if they did not take the plane but the car in Europe. The controls were absurdly full of holes.

However, airlines have also robbed themselves of customer loyalty. Contrary to the legal situation, the industry delayed reimbursements until the storm of indignation became too loud. After that, payments were made surprisingly quickly. The industry would have been well advised to speak openly with its customers instead of appeasing or remaining silent. The receipt for this has already been issued. Business travel and consumer representatives are demanding that tickets in future only have to be paid for upon departure and not months in advance. That would throw previous calculations overboard. In doing so, the airlines wanted to curtail customer rights, which were expensive for them and which the courts had steadily expanded. Now it is difficult to argue why, after a historic crisis, a hand should always be given to consumer protection.

After eight months of the pandemic, the industry needs a perspective. The required rapid test offensive can only be a bridging solution. Examining every guest remains a utopia. However, the concept is suitable as a starting aid on selected routes. The companies must also become more customer-friendly after the corona peak. Nevertheless, more support from the state is needed – not just with money, but also with words. The first step has been taken with the Aviation Summit. The scolding of politicians, which has the effect of stigmatizing travelers and making future business difficult, must end. 800,000 jobs depend on German aviation. Any employee whose job can be retained by a softer tone in the debate would be grateful.