An Air Canada flight begins takeoff at an airport

With several airlines saying they will no longer impose physical distancing policies on flights and polls suggesting Canadians travellers are not eager to fly, a University of Guelph expert says there may be ways to encourage more potential air travellers to board planes again.

Prof. Marion Joppe, from the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, is an expert on the travel industry. She researches the various motivations for travel, as well as the economic, social and environmental impacts of the tourism industry.

She said it is simply not economically feasible for airlines to operate over the long term with empty seats separating travellers.

“Airline economics just don’t allow for empty seats. It’s questionable whether leaving seats empty has much of an effect on physical distancing efforts anyway, given how narrow seats are,” she said.

The bigger focus should be on in-cabin airflow and using fresh air rather than recycled air, Joppe said. Airlines will also need to focus on cleaning and sanitizing, starting with electrostatic antiviral spraying which disinfects every surface such as overhead bins, seats, air nozzles and light controls, and tray tables.

Prof. Marion Joppe

The problem is that conducting such measures on an entire fleet of aircraft is expensive. It could mean the need for higher ticket prices, which could drive more travellers away.

How the airline industry will lure back travellers remains to be seen, Joppe said.

“Clearly, this is a hugely difficult time for airlines. The global scope of the pandemic crisis and the ongoing uncertainty cannot be compared to any other crisis the industry has ever suffered before. And unfortunately, some players will not survive,” she said.

Prof. Joppe is available for interviews.


Prof. Marion Joppe