Travel bans are extended indefinitely in many parts of the world, but indefinite doesn’t mean forever. It just means until we know more. Will air travel return in June, July, August – or not until a much later date? One thing is for certain: society has cabin fever right now, and it will return.

The question du jour is: what will it take to get you to book a flight?

Defining Safe

Current advice is to stay home, embrace social distancing and save lives. Until further notice, do that. But borders will re-open, and many expect this summer to be a time when that will happen, perhaps as early as May or June.

Just because a border opens and advice against non essential travel disappears, doesn’t mean the world has seen the end of the current crisis, but defining safe is always impossible. Health resources need time to recover, but once they do, people will need to define what means “safe” to them.

And is anything at all in life entirely safe?

There are always risks associated with travel, and even now this is just one of them, albeit a great one. At some point, when government advice is that travel is ok, and the health crisis has passed its greatest challenges, people will need to show faith to the world again and get out there.

After all, descending the stairs in your apartment carries risk of death.  It’s all about how you personally define safe, and for my family and I, the reopening of national borders and the return of flights will be good enough. Until people are advised to leave home, we’ll be home waiting like the rest of the world.

Is It About Price?

Laying my travel cards on the table, I’ve booked travel in the last 30 days. I booked Hawaii for October, and Los Angeles for January 2021. I did so believing in my heart both will go ahead as scheduled. Would I have booked at normal prices? No, but these weren’t normal prices.

The thing we’re beginning to see airlines test, which they will test more once a more definite end date is in sight, is whether woes can be alleviated with great bargains. Whenever there’s fear, it’s always a challenge to crack the code of bringing people back inside, and humanity loves a bargain.

This is precisely why it will be an amazing year for those who keep track of travel flash sales. And yes, you really should set your own Google Flights and Google Hotels alerts too…

Will Loyalty Offers Help?

Assuming the price is right, but even that’s not enough – what’s the next step? Airlines must reach into the loyalty promotions department to find compelling reasons for travelers to return. Will they reach deep enough to get you back into the skies?

Too generous and an airline might need another bailout, but not generous enough and travelers may defect to an airline that is popping out super promos. This will be the space to watch as the recovery begins. That likely won’t be for another couple months, but we’re already seeing this materialize with extensions to loyalty perks.

Air Canada found arguably the best solution to encourage people to travel in 2020, once its advisable to do so, with a clever elite status offer. Everyone who currently has Air Canada elite status already gets to maintain it through 2021, but if you manage to earn it this year anyway, whatever status you earn you can gift to someone.

In other words, you’re all set, but you could get a travel companion hooked up too. Who wouldn’t want extra upgrades or lounge access for more guests?

Imagining a year of incredible fares and the best loyalty offers since 2008 makes the recovery period of this awful crisis feel a lot better. Airlines need the support, and with the right combo, everyone can be happy about doing so.

What About The Experience Itself?

If prices were equal and you deemed travel to be safe – what would make the difference to win a booking? Is it just loyalty and price – or do other things now enter the conversation?

Will you prefer airlines with better cleaning scores, or with more width between seats? Airlines were heavy into densifying planes with more and more seats, but is that sustainable, or even safe in a post crisis world?

Nothing Until A Vaccine?

The pessimist approach here is that even if global cases virtually disappear, travel will not reappear until a working vaccine is delivered. By current (realistic) estimations, that’s well into 2021. If we can’t travel until late into 2021, cancelling tickets or getting points refunded will be the least of our worries.

Once things have stabilized and health resources are no longer inundated, the world will need travel again. It may be different, and that’s not entirely a bad thing either, but a world without travel, even if that means domestic travel, isn’t a whole lot of fun.

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