AMCHAM: Please share with us how you and your team became aware of the Covid medical crisis, and what were the initial first steps that the LUXAIR took to protect the company, the employees and the customers?
Gilles Feith: Luxair’s primary and most important solution to the health crisis, was open, clear and regular communication with customers and employees. Since the beginning, Luxair did its utmost for its customers’ and its employees’ health, safety and comfort.
Beginning of March 2020, an internal team was set up specifically for this with all the necessary skills. This team met up regularly to determine and activate all the required precautionary measures, in order to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment to employees and safe travel to customers. All the decisions were taken in strict compliance with the guidelines set by the competent authorities.
Luxair was particularly affected by the situation. In the beginning, the service was modified and adapted to the new regulations (always in strict compliance with EASA and WHO guidelines). A significant drop in demand due to a general feeling of uncertainty following entry restrictions to various areas and companies’ business travel restrictions, was felt at an early stage (beginning of March). Cancellations were more and more frequent, whilst bookings were dropping significantly. Finally, on 24 March 2020, flight operations were paused, and all aircraft were put into lockdown, for nearly two months. Nonetheless, before suspending the operations, Luxair and LuxairTours made sure that all customers were repatriated. In total, 4.334 customers were repatriated.
Special commercial conditions were put in place in order to ensure the best possible service for customers. Since the start of the health situation, Luxair Airlines and LuxairTours were more flexible with their customers and adjusted their terms and conditions to counteract this situation.
All departments worked together to put in place all the necessary procedures to deal with the pandemic and to guarantee passengers the best possible travel conditions to relaunch operations when possible, and all aircraft underwent a specific storage and maintenance program.
AMCHAM: How has business demand from your customers changed during the crisis period?
The airline has been particularly affected by this health crisis. Significant drops in demand and bookings were experienced. A particular drop was felt for business travels, due to the restrictions imposed by the companies.
With the introduction of teleworking, companies mainly used and continue using videoconferencing for their meetings and therefore hardly travel for face-to-face meetings.
Revenues on business destinations decreased by 91% in 2021 in comparison to the same period of time in 2019, from January to June included.
In 2020, “Business” routes (such as Geneva, Milan or London City) with a high proportion of businessmen, had the worst evolution, with a drop of 78%, compared to 2019.
Has there been disruption to the logistics stream from your subcomponent suppliers, and how have you handled disruptive supply flows?
Luxair, as all other businesses in Luxembourg and in the world, suffered from disruptions in the supply chain. Moreover, we noted significant price increases for transport of goods as well as some essential supplies. This was even amplified by the situation in the Suez Canal and the Covid induced increased logistics needs.
How has the impact of Covid evolved over time and what adjustments has LUXAIR had to make to protect the company, the employees and the customers?
As soon as it was possible to, Luxair resumed its flight operations, in order to give the opportunity to clients to travel and meet their loved ones. Luxair was the first airline to restart flying from Luxembourg airport and welcomed its first passengers on board on 29 May 2020 in strict compliance with the relevant health measures.
As soon as the resumption of flights was announced, and thanks to the confidence shown by its customers, LuxairTours made sure to expand its holiday offerings. The first plane flew to Faro, in the Algarve (Portugal), on 31 May 2020. Luxair and LuxairTours put in place special measures to guarantee the highest level of safety to customers, deployed throughout the whole customer journey, on the ground and during the flight. The schedule of flights was gradually expanded in the weeks that followed, and new destinations were added.
Attractive marketing campaigns, allowed customers to take advantage of cut-price holidays. Sales conditions were adjusted to offer considerable flexibility.
Based on the guidelines of EASA and the WHO, Luxair & LuxairTours implemented special measures to guarantee their passengers the highest level of safety when travelling. These health measures are deployed all along the customer journey, from the moment customers arrive at the airport until they leave the plane.
The planes are carefully cleaned and systematically disinfected using efficient methods, such as disinfectant fogging machines within the cabin, and all flight crews have attended a special Covid-19 training course.
All the passengers were provided with their own health kit, including a surgical mask, a hand sanitizer and a disinfecting wipe, while the in-flight meal service was adapted according to the EASA guidelines.
LuxairTours is attentive to its customers comfort and guarantees holidays with a 100% LuxairTours protection, enabling them to travel with peace of mind. A set of measures has been defined to facilitate their travel, in strict compliance with the regulations in force:
- Free cancellation and reimbursement in the event of lockdown or travel ban by the competent authorities of the country / region concerned or if local measures require hotels to close all their restaurants or outdoor swimming pools.
- Free of charge modification up to 14 days before departure, for all holiday bookings until 31 October 2021.
- A free antigen test is organized for customers at the destination. LuxairTours organizes and covers the antigen test at destination for passengers requiring a test when flying back to Luxembourg, who have booked a package holiday until 31 October 2021.
- For all new bookings since 6 May 2021, LuxairTours offers the insurance assistance free of charge for package holidays to non-EU countries (Cape Verde, Dubai, Egypt, Montenegro, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey) for travels until 31 October 2021
- A large choice of hotels, compliant with “Travel Safe & Clean” requirements, to guarantee optimal hygiene during their stay, is available to customers.
AMCHAM: What adjustment to physical working schedules and conditions, and what health and safety measures have been implemented to ensure the physical safety and health of your employees? How have you implemented home working, and what challenges have you had to overcome in that regard?
Luxair kept regularly and openly communicating with its staff throughout the whole lockdown and even after that and always reminded them to respect barrier gestures.
Special measures were taken to adjust Luxair’s workforce in the field to levels of activity as of March 2020, in order to face the situation caused by the Covid-19 virus.
Staff who saw their activities drop due to the situation, had the opportunity to shift to departments in need, like for example at LuxairCARGO who saw a strong increase of volumes, and others volunteered to help out at the Ministry of health to cope with the health crisis.
With the resumption of operations teleworking was still a possibility for vulnerable people and departments where the number of employees did not allow social distancing.
Luxair implemented several collective and technical measures resulting in particular from the risk assessment at the workstation carried out by designated employees and operations: distribution of masks, separation of incoming and outgoing staff flows, installation of hydro-alcoholic gel distribution stations, floor marking to respect the distance of 2 m in the queues, provision of disinfection products, offices spacing to respect the distance of 2 m and installation of plexiglass protections when needed.
AMCHAM: As a company, have you been satisfied by the adequacy and timeliness of the actions taken by the various governmental entities with whom you are involved and were there some solutions imposed in some jurisdictions which you greatly appreciated or some that you considered ineffective? What additional governmental policy initiatives would you have liked to be implemented?
The transport sector in general and aviation in particular are strongly influenced by the free movement of people and goods. During the pandemic free movement was strongly impacted and the measures taken were different and divergent from one country to another. Even today the situation has not normalized. The fact that Luxair serves 4 markets (Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Germany) has been a real challenge to keep up with all their individual health measures and restrictions. In general aviation should have been treated the same as earthbound transport, which, unfortunately, was seldom the case and remains difficult even today.
AMCHAM: Please comment on the sufficiency and effectiveness of the governmental financial support measures made available to your company? Were these measures adequate?
Luxembourg’s general relieve package for Covid-19 impacted sectors, was a welcomed relief and the handling of “chômage partiel” (part-time work) and all other general aids were very efficient.
AMCHAM: What challenges do you face now that the economy is recovering, and how is this “new normal” the same or different from the old normal?
While desire and need to get away are present, the health crisis persists and operations have not yet returned to pre-Covid-19 levels. Luxair is confident that as most vulnerable people are vaccinated, a certain type of normality will be restored.
Leisure travel is picking up; however, a significant drop is still felt for business travel, in comparison to 2019, due to the restrictions imposed by the companies. Usual “Business” destinations have not yet taken up and Luxair does not fly in the same frequencies as before, despite some requests to increase frequencies towards a few destinations.
Like previously stated, another challenge faced at the moment, is the clear inequality resulting from the decisions that it is possible to reach Luxembourg freely by land (train, bus or car) without having to present a test.
However, despite the complications and challenges faced, Luxair does not give up and will continue to fly and thus allow customers to escape and reunite with their loved ones.
AMCHAM: How would you assess the current emotional and mental health of your employees and are there any steps you are taking to give additional support in this area?
Luxair’s force are its employees. So, the company’s response to this unprecedented situation was to promote teamwork, while staying united and motivated and shining a light on the internal talents and strategy.
The psychological health of its staff being at the heart of its preoccupations, Luxair has partnered with Stiftung Mayday to set up a new peer-support program. Should any problems, issues, or concerns arise, crew members (cabin crews) can contact Stiftung Mayday and get initial psychological help—in complete confidentiality, of course.
Despite the crisis, Luxair tries to guarantee the employment of all of its staff. Efforts have been made to support the temporary reclassification of employees (internally and / or externally) and to maintain a positive social climate within Luxair. In order for this to be possible, follow-up calls and individual meetings to support with CV preparation and training requests are organized.
Specific projects for individual trainings are being analyzed and treated within Luxair in order to not delay the identified professional projects of some employees, and surveys are launched to all Luxair staff to identify the training needs.
The health and well-being of its staff is one of Luxair’s top priority.
What have you learned, and how has your personal management style evolved as a result of this Covid experience?
Perseverance is the main outtake of this Covid crisis. In order not to lose focus it is important that everybody in an organization is part of the solution. A momentum needs to be created where the collective effort and the collective push in the same direction helps to jumpstart the fledgling business after the Covid-related shutdown.
Learnings could be summarized by: persevere, be transparent and don’t be evil as a business, meaning that a social, environmental and economic responsibility needs to be balanced.
What question would you have liked us to ask during this interview which we neglected to raise… And how would you answer it?
Flying should not become a convenience and should stay special. In all aspects of our modern economy the social aspects of a company should not be neglected. We wish that while planning their next trip people start by thinking not only about the price but also about the quality and social responsibility of the airlines they use.
Amcham would like to thank Luxair and Gilles Feith for this wonderful insightful article!