Chris Browne, who previously led Tui Aviation and easyJet, predicts the airline sector will take two years to recover from the “turmoil and devastation” of the pandemic.
She also forecasts the package holiday will “bounce back” and said the over-50s market will recover quickly, thanks to the vaccination programme.
Speaking in an interview with executive recruitment firm Howgate Sable, she said: “In the 30 years I’ve been in aviation, I genuinely thought I’d seen it all.
“No one has witnessed the turmoil and devastation this has caused to the travel industry. Right now, it’s a matter of survival.
“The industry will need two years to recover from this and it’s very clear that liquidity is everything – only the companies that have been managed well and have a strong balance sheet will come out of this stronger.”
Browne took early retirement in 2019 from her role as easyJet chief operating officer.
She had joined easyJet in 2016 from Tui, where she led First Choice Airways and Thomson Airways as managing director and then took on the expanded role of chief operating officer of Tui Aviation. She was awarded an OBE for services to aviation in 2013.
Currently, she holds non-executive positions at housebuilding firm Vistry Group and Norwegian Air.
She told Nick Irving, partner at Howgate Sable: “There is no overnight solution to this pandemic, recovery will take time.
“We cannot underestimate how many people have been affected…aircraft manufacturers, tourism businesses, airport cafes, airline caterers, baggage handlers, airlines, bus operators, airport taxi – the list is endless.
“We can’t just turn the furlough tap off and expect everything to begin again.
“There are so many restrictions and regulations surrounding air travel that it will take many months to get anywhere near the normal flying routines.”
She added: “Those [airlines] that have cash can build for the future and turn a negative situation into a positive one.
“Airlines that have valued their customers, supported them and offered quick refunds will see loyalty and I think those firms will bounce back stronger than some.”
However, she did note “many positives” as travel emerges from the crisis.
“I have no doubt people appreciate the value of their annual holiday more than ever before,” she said.
“Those who have family abroad will never underestimate the simplicity of jumping on a plane.”
She added: “Who said the package holiday was dead? I can see the 80s favourite bouncing back.
“A totally protected holiday if something goes wrong is what people will be looking for, and strong, trusted brands.
She also tipped the over-50s market to bounce back quickly as consumers in this bracket feel comfortable booking trips following their vaccination.
“Short-haul and budget breaks will see a recovery first but for every single carrier, customer service will be key,” she commented.
“Companies offering great service right now and those that continue to do so will be the ones who thrive.”
She said the government needs to offer “consistency” for the sector as “the chopping and changing of all the regulations is very damaging and costly”.
“The UK has always been a leader in the aviation market; we’ve had more innovation and competition than anywhere else in the world,” she said.
“The Chancellor must help this to continue. UK plc shouldn’t be penalised while the rest of Europe subsidise their flagship carriers.”
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