The pandemic has supercharged the adoption of technology that will result in a better passenger experience when the recovery starts, says an industry tech supplier.
Amadeus is one of the biggest booking systems and tech firms for airlines and its regional head Lance Batty says digital transformation will become critical for airlines post-pandemic.
"Over the last five years airlines have become better at brand merchandising strategies, personalisation and customer experience [using tech] - what's happened with Covid is what has hyper-scaled that."
There has been a huge shift in the expectations of customers, who now expect more in terms of service, safety and cleanliness.
While airlines such as Air New Zealand have been using features such as chatbots to deal with customer inquiries for years, other carriers were quickly adopting artificial intelligence technology.
"This was a black swan event so the first horizon was simply crisis management, managing massive amounts of disruption and rebookings without the infrastructure."
But some of the tech solutions rolled out quickly - such as Air NZ's revamped booking tool for customers to manage their flight credits - were now becoming permanent.
Airlines are increasingly using apps and other technology to create a seamless digital experience for travellers, including making sure IT systems are fit for purpose with reduced workforces and the increased chance of travel disruptions.
"It becomes a profitability issue, airlines need payback," said Batty. "And they need to be able to see how this is going to help customers and our business within a very short time period, normally the next financial year."
Last year's crisis period was a very pressured time and with airline staff themselves at risk, problems were exacerbated.
Covid was very personal for people in the industry, said Batty. "This one was thinking about your family, your parents, your team, your work, and then you're thinking about your customers."
Now the shock phase of the pandemic is past, the next horizon for airlines "that are more solid" will be extracting more value from loyalty schemes, personalisation and merchandising.
"One of the things, I would say, is going to be a real focus on safe travel. I think it's going to be structurally similar to security upgrades after 911 and this will affect the whole customer journey."
That change would be most noticeable in airports. Even before Covid hit, Amadeus had been trialling retina scanning at airports, and airports such as Dubai were using biometrics, which would become more widely used.
"What we're seeing is more people wanting to be involved in planning and booking travel online. More people been wanting to go to an airport and effectively check in and board without physically touching a surface."
Health passports - due to be trialled soon by airBaltic and by Air NZ across the Tasman next month - could transform travel, and the entire industry had broken down traditional commercial silos to work together to get a system up and running.
In April, Emirates will implement phase 1 of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) system in Dubai for the validation of Covid-19 tests before departure. In this initial phase, Emirates customers travelling from Dubai will be able to share their test status directly with the airline even before reaching the airport via an app, which will then send the details on to the check-in system.
Batty is regional director for Amadeus in the South Pacific and said his company was working with the Iata Travel Pass. This digitises the Covid-19 testing and vaccination status of travellers, using information from registered labs and vaccinators.
The association is working with the World Health Organisation to achieve universal recognition of the Travel Pass.
Batty acknowledged countries would take different approaches to the adoption of health passports, but the industry couldn't afford to wait for governments to universally approve them.