As the travel rebound continues at pace, changes are afoot affecting how we work and travel for business.
From making history as the first airline to fly a commercial passenger flight using 100% drop-in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in 2021 (CWT was the first travel management platform to join Eco-Skies Alliance) to investments in electric flying taxis, United Airlines is at the forefront of evolution and innovation in air travel.
We caught up with Bob Schumacher, Director UK, Ireland, Israel & Off-line Sales at United Airlines to ask him about some of the key trends to watch as we enter a new year.
“Alternative” airports will increase in popularity
10 years ago, the notion of being able to fly from airports other than the world’s main city hubs and experience equal or even superior convenience and service would have been almost unthinkable, but now expectations are fast evolving.
In the next 20 years, passenger demand for air travel is projected to double.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.8 billion passengers to travel in 2036, a near doubling of the 4 billion air travellers expected to fly this year. “Already, the nation’s primary airports are clogged with traffic,” says Schumacher. “Now that the traffic is back, airports want to ensure they are offering a passenger experience that’s too good to forget.”
In the New York City area for example, Newark Airport’s Terminal A is the latest in a series of multi-billion dollar upgrades to the city’s 3 main airports, JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.
United Airlines plans to move into an initial 12 gates in Terminal A, eventually expanding its footprint to 15 gates, or nearly half of the 33 gates in the new 2.7 billion USD facility.
United’s New York/Newark hub is the airline's largest transatlantic gateway, with service added to 5 new European destinations in summer 2022.
During Summer 2023, United will operate nearly 450 daily flights to 155 destinations in 46 countries from New York/Newark.
“JFK was originally seen as the New York gateway, but Newark and LaGuardia are today ever more prominent in the landscape of New York and just as well connected.
In 2020, JFK had 8.3 million passengers passing through and Newark had 7.9. They were within a hair’s breadth of one another. New York/Newark is across the bridge in New Jersey but its proximity to Penn Station in the centre of Manhattan is better than the other 2 airports. You can jump on a train and be downtown in 30 minutes. The traveller looks for convenience. The less hassle factor, the better,” says Schumacher.
With passenger demand expected to double and travelers looking for alternative and convenient routes, we’re likely to see more demand for alternative airports in other major world cities.
Greener air travel will remain a top priority
“The travel sector accounts for roughly 8% of global carbon emissions. A lot is happening to reduce these emissions: more sustainable aircraft are being introduced, and sustainable aviation fuels, carbon capture and green certification are being developed,” says Schumacher.
The airline announced a 15 million USD investment in Eve Air Mobility and a conditional purchase agreement for 200 four-seat electric aircraft plus 200 options, expecting the first deliveries as early as 2026.
In addition to electric aircraft, it’s looking at carbon sequestration and storage and investing in hydrogen commercial flight opportunities.
United joins a host of airlines focused on making air travel more sustainable.
“These embryonic initiatives all take seed investment. As one of the largest global carriers we have an important role to play. Over half of the world’s sustainable aviation fuel is consumed by United. We continue to invest in those facilities.”
Travel will become a lighter-touch experience
Are the days of fumbling around your pockets in a harried rush finally over? IATA’s 2021 global passenger survey found that a whopping 73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019).
“During the pandemic, we all learned that the fewer touchpoints we have in our lives, the better. We learned that there are parts of the travel process that simply do not need a human interface,” says Schumacher. “The traveller just wants to get on with it, get through the airport process, and to be in control. People are looking for a one-stop shop and a seamless experience with as few interfaces as possible. Coming through Heathrow, I was diverted through a lane where you leave everything in your bag. Technology is removing the hassle factor.”