A growing number of people are admitting that they may not return to skies in the post-COVID era, new research has suggested.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released the results of its recent public opinion survey, in which 58 per cent of respondents, who have all travelled in the last year, stated they have avoided air travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, 33 per cent of respondents stated they intend to continue avoiding air travel into the future, as a continued measure to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.
While 45 per cent of participants indicated they would return to skies within a few months of the pandemic subsiding, this figure is down drastically for the 61 per cent stating the same intention that was recorded in the April survey.
The research was conducted across 11 different countries in the first week of June 2020, and aimed to grasp a better understanding of current consumer sentiment for air travel, to prepare the industry for the future.
Overall, the survey results demonstrate that while people have not lost their taste for travel entirely, many won’t begin travelling to the same extent that they may have in the past.
In fact, 66 per cent of respondents stated that they will travel less for both leisure and business in the post-pandemic world.
The respondents were also asked about their biggest pressure points in terms of travelling in the COVID-19 era, as well as things that airlines and airports could implement to make customers feel more at ease throughout their journey.
Within the confines of the airport, the biggest concern for respondents was being required to sit on a crowded train or bus on the way to the aircraft, with 59 per cent of participants noting this concern, followed by the worry of queuing at check in, security, border control or while boarding, with 42 per cent sharing this opinion.
Additionally, 38 per cent worried about picking up the virus within airport bathroom facilities.
Meanwhile, on board the aircraft, the largest concern for the surveyed cohort was sitting next to someone who was positive with COVID-19, with 65 per cent of respondents noting this worry.
Other concerns were using the restroom facilities on board, as stated by 42 per cent of respondents, and breathing the air on the plane, according to 37 per cent of participants.
When asked to rank the top three measures that airports and airlines could undertake to make them feel safer while travelling, 37 per cent of participants agreed that COVID-19 screening at departure airports would help.
Additionally, 34 per cent stated that mandatory facemasks while travelling, and 33 per cent stated that appropriate social distancing onboard the aircraft, would make them feel more at ease while travelling.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said, “People are clearly concerned about COVID-19 when traveling. But they are also reassured by the practical measures being introduced by governments and the industry under the Take-off guidance developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“These include mask-wearing, the introduction of contactless technology in travel processes and screening measures. This tells us that we are on the right track to restoring confidence in travel. But it will take time. To have maximum effect, it is critical that governments deploy these measures globally.”
In recent weeks, particularly with ongoing spread of the virus throughout the US, airlines have been slammed by the media and the US Senate for removing any means of social distancing in their aircraft.
Many critics believe this is encouraging the spread of the virus throughout the nation.
“It is no secret that passengers have concerns about the risk of transmission onboard,” de Juniac said.
“They should be reassured by the many built-in anti-virus features of the air flow system and forward-facing seating arrangements.
“On top of this, screening before flight and facial coverings are among the extra layers of protection that are being implemented by industry and governments on the advice of ICAO and the World Health Organization.
“No environment is risk free, but few environments are as controlled as the aircraft cabin. And we need to make sure that travellers understand that.”
In response to the results suggesting that travellers may be slow to warm up to air travel again post-COVID, de Juniac noted: “This crisis could have a very long shadow. Passengers are telling us that it will take time before they return to their old travel habits.
“Many airlines are not planning for demand to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024. Numerous governments have responded with financial lifelines and other relief measures at the height of the crisis. As some parts of the world are starting the long road to recovery, it is critical that governments stay engaged. Continued relief measures like alleviation from use-it-or-lose it slot rules, reduced taxes or cost reduction measures will be critical for some time to come.”
However, the IATA CEO concluded by noting that countries need to re-open borders, and implement greater resources to measures such as health screening before departures, greater testing and bans on COVID-positive individuals from flying.
“Quarantine is a demand killer. Keeping borders closed prolongs the pain by causing economic hardship well beyond airlines. If governments want to re-start their tourism sectors, alternative risk-based measures are needed,” he said.
“Many are built into the ICAO Take-off guidelines, like health screening before departure to discourage symptomatic people from travelling. Airlines are helping this effort with flexible rebooking policies.
“In these last days we have seen the UK and the EU announce risk-based calculations for opening their borders. And other countries have chosen testing options. Where there is a will to open up, there are ways to do it responsibly,” de Juniac concluded.