Third wave of IATA public opinion research shows willingness to travel is still being tempered by concerns over the risks of catching Covid-19 during air travel

New research from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has highlighted that consumer willingness to travel continues to be tempered by concerns over the risks of catching Covid-19 during air travel. On the positive though it also illustrates that much of the industry’s re-start actions are addressing passengers’ main concerns.

The third wave of questioning of almost 5,000 travellers in early Jun-2020 has shown that a lesser percentage of travellers are very or somewhat concerned over contracting Covid-19 than when they were questioned two months earlier in Apr-2020. However, the level remains higher than the first edition of the research from back in Feb-2020 when travellers were perhaps less aware of the severity of the pandemic.

Those very concerned (41%) and somewhat concerned (42%) totalled 83%, down from 90% in Apr-2020, split between 53% very concerned and 37% somewhat concerned. It is clear that travellers remain concerned about Covid-19 when traveling but the findings illustrate they are also reassured by the practical measures being introduced by governments and the industry under the guidance developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and are taking action themselves.

More than three quarters (77%) are washing their hands more frequently, 71% are avoiding large meetings, 67% having worn a facemask in public and two thirds (66%) have avoided being in public places. More than half expect to continue taking these measures as well as using disinfectants when travelling.

More than half (58%) of those surveyed said that they have avoided air travel, but a third (33%) suggest that they will avoid travel in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching Covid-19. They are mainly concerned at airports of being in a crowded bus/train on the way to the aircraft (59%), queuing at check-in/security/border control or boarding (42%) and using airport restrooms/toilet facilities (38%).

Meanwhile, once onboard the airport they are mainly concerned about sitting next to someone who might be infected (65%), using restrooms/toilet facilities (42%) and breathing the air on the plane (37%), although on most modern aircraft the later is proven to be less of a problem than many believe due to the air filtration systems.

When asked to rank the top three measures that would make them feel safer, more than a third (37%) cited Covid-19 screening at departure airports, agreed with mandatory wearing of facemasks (34%) and noted social distancing measures on aircraft (33%).

Passengers are also displaying a willingness to play a role in keeping flying safe with more than a third prepared to undergo temperature checks (43%); wear a mask during travel (42%); check-in online to minimise interactions at the airport (40%); take a COVID-19 test prior to travel (39%) or sanitise their seating area (38%).

“We are on the right track to restoring confidence in travel,” says Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO, IATA, but he warns: “it will take time”. To have maximum effect, he says, “it is critical that governments deploy measures globally.”

CHART – Since the second wave survey in Apr-2020, travellers are more concerned about catching Covid-19 and being quarantined when and on return from travellingSource: International Air Transport Association (IATA)

The survey also points to some key issues in restoring confidence where the industry will need to communicate the facts more effectively. According to IATA’s findings travellers’ top on board concerns include issues around cabin air quality and social distancing

It appears that travellers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality. While more than half (57%) believe that air quality is dangerous, a similar level (55%) also responded that they understood that it was as clean as the air in a hospital operating theatre.

They are also concerned about the close proximity between passengers on an aircraft and that is why screening before flight and facial coverings are among the extra layers of protection that have been introduced to complement the many built-in anti-virus features of the air flow system and forward-facing seating arrangements.

While nearly half of those surveyed (45%) indicate they would return to travel within a few months of the pandemic subsiding, this is a further significant drop from the 61% recorded in the second wave survey. Overall, the survey results demonstrate that people have not lost their taste for travel, but there are blocks remaining to the return to pre-crisis levels of travel.

CHART – This crisis could have a very long shadow with travellers now expecting to wait longer to return to their old travel habitsSource: International Air Transport Association (IATA)

A majority of travellers surveyed plan to return to travel to see family and friends (57%), to holiday (56%) or to do business (55%) as soon as possible after the pandemic subsides. But, two thirds (66%) said that they would travel less for leisure and business in the post-pandemic world and a similar level (64%) indicate that they would postpone travel until economic factors improved (personal and broader).

According to Mr de Juniac “many airlines are not planning for demand to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024”. He adds that as some parts of the world are starting the long road to recovery, “it is critical that governments stay engaged”.

The survey findings indicate that one of the biggest impediments to industry recovery is quarantine. Some 85% of travellers 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 travellers were willing to take in adapting to travel during or after the pandemic, only 17% reported that they were will willing to undergo quarantine.

“Quarantine is a demand killer. Keeping borders closed prolongs the pain by causing economic hardship well beyond airlines,” says Mr de Juniac. If governments want to re-start their tourism sectors, alternative risk-based measures are needed”.

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,” explains Mr de Juniac.

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