Airlines that have survived the last decade’s roller coaster ride are back in business in a big way, and what they need most right now are planes – big planes; and quickly.
The cycle has turned once again, and although many low-cost carriers and smaller feeder airlines went bust during the brutal travel bans of 2020, it’s boom time again, but with a difference. Gone are the days of sub-economic cheap seats, with ‘cattle class’ passengers packed like sardines on no-frills flights.
It’s back to relative luxury in the air, especially on long-haul flights, where no-one wants a middle seat, and more and more travelers are happy to pay the premium for a ‘private’ cabin. There’s no distinction anymore between business and leisure travel, and since the coronavirus catastrophe, everyone wants a little more social distance, especially from strangers.
At one point, some 8,000 operational airliners were grounded or put into dry storage as the skies emptied; orders were cancelled, and leased planes returned. Now they are all being pressed into service, and the giant A380s are being brought out of retirement. They’re in hot demand, because they’re so spacious. It makes sense, in the ‘new’ economics of air travel.
Almost every aircraft has been reconfigured, with twin seats everywhere, except for ‘family’ cabins. And many planes are half cargo, half passengers, to maximize the return on fuel. Fuel is of course the main reason these new cabin designs work at all; since the oil price collapsed and solar power dominates, jet fuel is cheaper than 1990, and abundant.
While everyone is clamouring for big planes, spare a thought for the poor old 737Max. Finally certified safe to fly in 2024, no-one wanted it, and Boeing has repurposed most of them as the ‘stretch limos’ of business jets, snapped up by millionaires and potentates at bargain prices.
Flying is still the only way to travel, but it’s no longer about cost and efficiency. Personal comfort and luxury are back in style.