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Seven months since COVID-19 was officially designated a pandemic by the WHO, its effect on global travel and the airline industry in particular remains severe. Although more flights are running now than at the lowest points in April, global airline capacity is currently down 47% from this time last year. Looking at the statistics page for flights tracked on Flightradar24, the 7-day moving average for commercial flights has remained flat since early August. The latest 7-day average stands at just shy of 69,000.
In many ways it’s surprising the number of flights is even that high. With ongoing uncertainty around travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, and a hesitant approach by many governments toward launching any kind of protocol (such as rigorous testing) to make it easier to visit, a majority of people are steering clear of international travel. But a new survey about traveler sentiments carried out by OAG indicates that a majority of people would still like to travel. And quite a few say they are planning to travel regardless of what comes next. The sample size isn’t huge, but it still offers an intriguing glimpse into the minds of would-be travelers during the pandemic.
The results are surprising
The survey of 4,004 people came up with the following data points (among others):
- 79% of global travelers – and 81% of North American travelers – plan to fly domestically in the next six months.
- 69% of global travelers, and 73% of those from North America, plan to fly internationally in the next six months.
- Nearly a third of all travelers have not (and don’t plan to) adjust their travel habits as a result of the virus.
Domestic is the clear winner
The first data point, which says that 79% of travelers globally are planning to fly domestically in the next six months, is perhaps the least surprising. Domestic travel has done much better than international travel since the pandemic took hold, for obvious reasons. For one thing, it’s now impossible to travel to a number of international destinations because of border closures. And even if immigration authorities are letting people in, the threat of foreign lockdowns, airport closures and general uncertainty has made many people wary of getting stuck far from home. Staying within one’s borders in this case makes a lot of sense.
International is not far behind
The fact that 69% of global travelers said they plan to fly internationally in the next six months is very surprising. Of course, some of this could be chalked up to optimism that the situation would improve in terms of transmission rates and/or travel restrictions that far out. If respondents had been asked whether they planned to do so in the next month, the number would have likely been lower. Whatever the desire to travel may be, these days it’s not so easy to put together a trip. Although the number of destinations you can travel to is steadily growing.
A third of all travelers claiming the pandemic would not affect their normal travel habits at all comes as perhaps the biggest surprise. Granted, we don’t know where these people are from nor what their normal travel patterns are. A huge percentage of people who were international business travelers previously have had their travel severely curtailed whether they wanted it to be or not. For someone who regularly traveled between Chicago and Dallas and no further, it’s likely been fairly straightforward to keep up that flying.
What this reveals
The fact that so many travelers still intend to travel despite the pandemic shows us that for many, fear of catching the virus is less of a concern than the potential difficulty and complications caused by travel restrictions. The dominance of domestic travel further supports this. In fact as part of the survey, respondents were asked how worried they were about catching the virus while traveling. 52% of respondents rated their fear level at 5 or below – and 32% said it was an 8 or higher. 21% answered with a level of 1, indicating that they were “not concerned.”
Whether they should be concerned about catching the virus is another question, and not one the survey seeks to answer. However, many of those who do choose to travel now, and especially those who fly, are taking comfort in a growing collection of data points showing that transmission rates while at the airport and flying on a plane are quite a bit lower than many initially feared.
Whether that translates to more demand for air travel and a change in airline fortunes remains to be seen.