Road to Recovery

The consumer view of air travel in the future

An illuminating new IATA study offers some key insights into how consumers will view air travel during (and hopefully beyond) the COVID-19 era. It’s a must read as the aviation and travel retail sectors eye a slow but accelerating recovery.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released public opinion research showing the willingness to travel being tempered by concerns over the risks of catching COVID-19 during air travel. It spoke to 4,700 travellers in June, split 50:50 between leisure and business.

1. Undergoing temperature checks (43%) 2. Wearing a mask during travel (42%) 3. Checking-in online to minimise interactions at the airport (40%) 4. Taking a COVID-19 test prior to travel (39%) 5. Sanitising their seating area (38%).

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.

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. Some 58% of those surveyed said that they have avoided air travel, with 33% suggesting that they will avoid travel in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.

Passengers themselves displayed a willingness to play a role in keeping flying safe by:

“People are clearly concerned about COVID-19 when travelling,” says IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “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.”

When Will Passengers Return to Travel After Pandemic Subsided

N=4,700 Q: Once the pandemic has subsided, how long would you wait, if at all, to return to your usual travel plans?

The survey also highlights key issues in restoring confidence where the industry will need to communicate the facts more effectively. Travellers’ top onboard concerns include:

Cabin air quality: Travellers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality. While 57% of them 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, IATA notes. 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.

Expectations are to travel less once pandemic subsides But half will travel as soon as possible for specific purposes

N=4,700 Q: Once the pandemic has subsided, how likely are you to do each of the following – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely or not at all likely?

Social distancing: Governments advise mask wearing 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 air flow is from ceiling to floor. This limits the potential spread of viruses or germs backwards 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.

There is no requirement for social distancing measures onboard the aircraft from highly respected aviation authorities such as the US Federal Aviation Administration, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency or ICAO.

“It is no secret that passengers have concerns about the risk of transmission onboard,” says de Juniac. “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,” says de Juniac.

No quick solution

While nearly half of those surveyed (45%) indicated the 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 travellers 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).

“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,” warns de Juniac. “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,” de Juniac concludes.

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The Moodie Davitt eZine

Issue 281 | 16 July 2020

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 12 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

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