The most important element of air travel is your personal space. That means the seat and what surrounds it. That's always been true, but never more so than during a pandemic when passengers worry the person next to them may get them sick.
After the seat what's next most important? I'd posit that it isn't meal or the alcohol. It's not the lounge on the ground before departure and it isn't the contents of an amenity kit. It isn't the inflight entertainment, you really can bring your own (seat power is a must but I include that in the seat). American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says Covid is an opportunity to start his airline from scratch.
So what's most important starting from scratch? It's the service. I don't mean that flight attendants need to be obsequious. I don't even mean that they are there to serve you. After all if you fly much domestically in the States you know that flight attendants are there primarily for your safety. The head of the largest U.S. flight attendants union says,
"Don't use the call button to ask for a drink," Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants told TPG. "As a general rule, don't think of the call button as your vodka-tonic button." Nelson explained that it's "not intended to be for ordering drinks."
What I mean is whether or not flight attendants seek to engage each passenger or whether they're actively avoiding engaging with each passenger individually.
Are they friendly and personable - do they stop, listen to what a passenger is asking, whether they're having a good or bad day, and think about whether it's possible to get them what they're after? Or is it an assembly line, are passenger interactions something to get through before returning to People magazine in the galley?
Put another way, whether in the air or on the ground customers want to be treated as human beings rather than self-loading cargo.
Goodness knows there are enough passengers out there whose humanity is questionable at best. But in each instance where that's the case, they've done something to reveal their flaws.
And it's fair to say that passengers need to treat airline employees with respect, too. I've seen too many people unload all their troubles on someone that's done nothing to deserve it.
However both passengers and employees are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. And when we each give that, the travel experience is so much better, in a way that no amount of turkey sandwiches or Woodford Reserve can compensate for.