Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere in the world, there’s growing confidence in air travel. According to an Inmarsat survey of 9,500 airline passengers from 12 countries who have flown in the last 18 months, 65 percent of respondents say they’ll be ready to fly within the next year; in fact, 47 percent are willing to fly within the next six months.
Even though travelers were initially fearful of spending an extended period of time on planes, given the close proximity to other passengers and many misconceptions about air circulation, science is proving that it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll contract COVID-19 on a plane.
Meanwhile, airlines have done essentially everything in their power to persuade travelers to fly. They've implemented stringent cleaning policies to instill confidence in passengers, adjusted boarding and deplaning protocols to limit the jostling of passengers during the processes, and even waived change fees for added travel flexibility. Some airlines are going above and beyond: Delta Air Lines, for instance, has blocked middle seats through March 2021—the only U.S. airline to continue the social distancing policy into next spring. It has also banned more than 400 passengers due to their refusal to wear masks.
“We’ve seen the airlines that have put the health of passengers first have gotten a 'halo' of goodwill from customers,” says Clint Henderson, senior news editor at The Points Guy. “While it may not mean a huge boost in travel at the moment, the long-term benefit to the reputation of some of these businesses could be substantial.”
But the survey isn’t all good news—83 percent of respondents say they do not expect to return to their pre-pandemic travel habits once things go back to normal. That said, it’s certainly likely that many of them, particularly those who are leisure travelers, might change their minds once a vaccine is widely available. We’ve seen the travel industry bounce back from a standstill before, such as during the years following 9/11.
“The travel industry is changed forever, but we don’t believe the changes will be as drastic or as long-lasting as the changes implemented after that terrible day in September 2001,” says Henderson. “While business and leisure travel is not likely to recover fully until 2023 at the earliest, the rollout of an effective and safe vaccine will do wonders for the aviation and hotel industry.”
Henderson also suggests that travelers might need to show “immunity passports” at borders, which will indicate that they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccination and should be given entry into a country. (It wouldn’t be dissimilar to the so-called yellow card that indicates a traveler has been inoculated against yellow fever—a requirement for entry into certain countries.) Such a document, when used in conjunction with in-airport health checks, “should get us all flying again soon,” Henderson says.
With two vaccines showing great promise during their trials, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we’ll be able to be vaccinated and travel the world once more.