Over the past month air travel demand has dropped by more than 90% according to the International Air Transport Association. Airlines have dramatically reduced their flights during this time (anywhere from 70 to 99% depending on the Airline) in response. Empty flights and empty airports have become the norm.
The airlines are still flying (with a fraction of their employees) and airports are still operating (with skeleton crews). People are still flying. The world has not stopped for everyone. Some people still need to get from place to place and air travel is still the fastest way to cover long distances.
So much has changed in the past month that most frequent fliers would not recognize their airline anymore. Gone are the lines and crowds of people. With airplanes having as little as 10 or 20 passengers per flight, there is no crowding at the gate to board the plane. Once onboard most airlines are allowing passengers to change seats so that social distancing can be maintained. Some airlines are allowing passengers to sit in empty second class, and sometimes even first class seats.
If you are lucky enough to get one of these free upgrades you shouldn’t expect much. In an effort to reduce contact, the drink service we have come to enjoy has been replaced with a bottle of water and a snack. There are no more gin and tonics before takeoff in first class. No more meals in first class either. There is no assortment of snacks in coach and no expensive alcohol to purchase. No sodas, no juices, just water. The drink service is finished.
When will the drink service return? No one can really say. Some airlines, like United, are predicting a 2 year time frame until demand starts to return to normal. But a return to normal is probably not the determining factor. As long as people are afraid of coming into close contact with each other the drink service will probably not return. So it might have to wait until a vaccine is common before you can enjoy those Bloody Marys at 30,000 feet again.