IATA research identifies traveller concerns

IATA released their public opinion research showing the willingness to travel being tempered by concerns over the risks of catching COVID-19 during air travel.

The 11-country survey was conducted during the first week of June 2020, and assessed traveller concerns during the pandemic and the potential timelines for their return to travel.

It shows that travellers 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. 58% have avoided air travel, and 33% will avoid travel in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.

Travellers identified their top three concerns:

At the airport

  1. Being in a crowded bus/train on the way to the aircraft (59%)
  2. Queuing at check-in/security/border control or boarding (42%)
  3. Using airport restrooms/toilet facilities (38%)

In the air

  1. Sitting next to someone who might be infected (65%)
  2. Using restrooms/toilet facilities (42%)
  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 minimise interactions at the airport (40%)
  • Taking a COVID-19 test prior to travel (39%)
  • Sanitising their seating area (38%)

People are clearly concerned about COVID-19 when travelling. But they are also reassured by the practical measures being introduced by governments and the industry. These include mask wearing, the introduction of contactless technology in travel processes and screening measures.

IATA stresses that air travel is on the right track to restoring confidence in travel, but it will take time. To have maximum effect, it states it is critical that governments deploy these measures globally.

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:

  • Most 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.
  • 66% would travel less for leisure and business in the post-pandemic world.
  • 64% would postpone travel until economic factors improved (personal and broader).

This crisis could have a very long shadow. Passengers say 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.

One of the biggest blockers to industry recovery is quarantine. 85% of travellers reported concern for being quarantined while travelling, a similar level of concern to those reporting general concern for catching the virus when travelling (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 will significantly impact demand and keeping borders closed prolongs the pain by causing economic hardship. If governments want to re-start their tourism sectors, alternative risk-based measures are needed, such as health screening before departure to discourage symptomatic people from travelling.