Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released public opinion research showing the willingness to travel being tempered by concerns over the risks of catching COVID-19 during air travel. The industry’s re-start plans address passenger’s main concerns.
Concerns for Travel During COVID-19
Travelers are taking precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19 with 77% saying that they are washing their hands more frequently, 71% avoiding large meetings and 67% having worn a facemask in public. Some 58% of those surveyed said that they have avoided air travel, with 33% suggesting that they will avoid travel in the future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.
Travelers identified their top three concerns as follows:
|At the Airport||On Board Aircraft|
|1. Being in a crowded bus/train on the way to the aircraft (59%)||1. Sitting next to someone who might be infected (65%)|
|2. Queuing at check-in/security/border control or boarding (42%)||2. Using restrooms/toilet facilities (42%) |
|3.Using airport restrooms/toilet facilities (38%)||3. Breathing the air on the plane (37%)|
When asked to rank the top three measures that would make them feel safer, 37% cited COVID-19 screening at departure airports, 34% agreed with mandatory wearing of facemasks and 33% noted social distancing measures on aircraft.
Passengers themselves displayed a willingness to play a role in keeping flying safe by:
- Undergoing temperature checks (43%)
- Wearing a mask during travel (42%)
- Checking-in online to minimize interactions at the airport (40%)
- Taking a COVID-19 test prior to travel (39%)
- Sanitizing their seating area (38%).
“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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
The survey also pointed to some key issues in restoring confidence where the industry will need to communicate the facts more effectively. Travelers’ top on board concerns include:
Cabin air quality: Travelers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality. While 57% of travelers believed that air quality is dangerous, 55% also responded that they understood that it was as clean as the air in a hospital operating theatre. The quality of air in modern aircraft is, in fact, far better than most other enclosed environments. It is exchanged with fresh air every 2-3 minutes, whereas the air in most office buildings is exchanged 2-3 times per hour. Moreover, High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters capture well over 99.999% of germs, including the Coronavirus.
Social distancing: Governments advise to wear a mask (or face covering) when social distancing is not possible, as is the case with public transport. This aligns with the expert ICAO Take-off guidance. Additionally, while passengers are sitting in close proximity onboard, the cabin airflow is from ceiling to floor. This limits the potential spread of viruses or germs backward or forwards in the cabin. There are several other natural barriers to the transmission of the virus onboard, including the forward orientation of passengers (limiting face-to-face interaction), seatbacks that limit transmission from row-to-row, and the limited movement of passengers in the cabin.
No Quick Solution
While nearly half of those surveyed (45%) indicated they would return to travel within a few months of the pandemic subsiding, this is a significant drop from the 61% recorded in the April survey. Overall, the survey results demonstrate that people have not lost their taste for travel, but there are blockers to returning to pre-crisis levels of travel:
- A majority of travelers surveyed plan to return to travel to see family and friends (57%), to vacation (56%) or to do business (55%) as soon as possible after the pandemic subsides.
- But, 66% said that they would travel less for leisure and business in the post-pandemic world.
- And 64% indicated that they would postpone travel until economic factors improved (personal and broader).
One of the biggest blockers to industry recovery is quarantine. Some 85% of travelers reported concern for being quarantined while traveling, a similar level of concern to those reporting general concern for catching the virus when traveling (84%). And, among the measures that travelers were willing to take in adapting to travel during or after the pandemic, only 17% reported that they were will willing to undergo quarantine.
The 11-country survey, which was conducted during the first week of June 2020, assessed traveler concerns during the pandemic and the potential timelines for their return to travel. This is the third wave of the survey, with previous waves conducted at the end of February and the beginning of April. All those surveyed had taken at least one flight since July 2019.