British Airways' Noella Ferns on Unprecedented Year for Airlines

By Ryan Gandolfo, April 15, 2021

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Wanderlust is a regular series where we speak with a notable individual from the travel industry.

Noella Ferns is British Airways’ newly-appointed Head of Sales for the Asia Pacific region. Ferns has over 30 years of experience at British Airways in operational and commercial roles in Sydney, Hong Kong and Beijing. 

Tasked with driving forward the airline’s commercial and external communications strategy in key Asian markets, she shares insight into how British Airways and the industry at large are gearing up for normalized international air travel.

Noella Ferns, British Airways’ Head of Sales for the Asia Pacific region

Would you tell us about British Airways operations in China?
Our connection with China and Chinese destinations is longstanding and very important to British Airways. We started operating a regular service to Beijing in 1980 and Shanghai in 2005. China is a country of ‘firsts’ for British Airways - we flew HM The Queen to China on her first state visit in 1986; we arranged the first Concorde trip to China in 1995; we were the first international airline arrival at the new Terminal 3 building at Beijing Capital in 2008; and over a decade later we were the first international arrival at Beijing Daxing. Although our Beijing and Shanghai services have been disrupted as a result of COVID-19, China will continue to be a significant market. In 2019, we signed a joint business agreement with China Southern Airlines and, through this partnership, we hope to further strengthen and deepen our connection once we start flying again.

British Airways started operating a regular service to Beijing in 1980

One airline CEO recently said that 2020 was the most challenging year in history for the airline industry. Would you agree?
I think everyone within aviation would agree. Our own CEO Sean Doyle also recently described this as the ‘worst crisis in the industry’s history.’ The huge reduction in travel and the ongoing disruption to our schedules as a result of changing global restrictions has forced us to re-structure our business. 

Primarily, we need to make sure we provide customers with a safe and enjoyable journey when they are eventually able to come to the UK. We’ll also keep beating the drum to promote Britain as a destination.

When do you expect international air travel to normalize – returning to pre-pandemic levels?
This is difficult to predict and will depend on several factors, although the consensus is at least two to three years. However, given the importance of aviation to so many sectors of the global economy, it’s crucial the industry works with governments around the world to restart international travel as soon as possible. 

British Airways is keen to help develop international standards that provide reassurance to travelers and governments alike. One solution we’re actively exploring is digital health travel wallets and secure document verification. We’re already trialing the VeriFLY health app on all inbound international flights and are also working closely with IATA on the development of its Travel Pass app. 

READ MORE: China’s New ‘International Travel Health Certificate’ Explained

What are some international airline trends we might see over the rest of 2021?
A key area of innovation for British Airways is to make the customer experience as contact-free as possible through digital technology – and not just when you check-in and arrive at the airport. 

For example, we have moved our High Life shop online, meaning that customers can purchase their duty-free goods before they fly, and we will deliver them directly to their seats during the flight. 

We have even developed a lounge app so that food and drinks can be ordered in a contactless way. For us, it’s about making sure we’re standing ready to welcome customers back on board and hopefully offering an even better and more enjoyable experience than before the pandemic. 

Separately, as flying resumes customers will rightly expect there to be a focus on how we can do this sustainably, and despite these unprecedented times, we’re continuing to take urgent action to tackle the impact aviation currently has on the planet. 

In the short term, this includes improving our operational efficiency, flying more fuel-efficient aircraft and introducing carbon offset and removal projects. 

In the medium to longer term, we’re investing in the development of sustainable aviation fuel, which we expect will be available to power a number of our flights from late 2022, and looking at how we can help accelerate the growth of new technologies such as zero-emissions hydrogen-powered aircraft and carbon capture technology. 

READ MORE: China Not Set to Ease International Travel Until Spring 2022?

For more Wanderlust, click here.

[Images provided by British Airways]

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