Travellers itching to get back in the air, but say risks have to be managed

Travellers itching to get back in the air, but say risks have to be managed

About 88% of people polled in an airline industry survey say that governments need to strike a balance between managing the risks posed by Covid-19 and kick-starting their economies.

This was one of the key findings in the latest International Air Transport Association (Iata) poll of recent travellers, which showed people were increasingly confident in returning to air travel and growing acceptance of travel apps to monitor health.

The latest online poll – the fourth of its kind carried out since April 2020 – covered 11 market countries and saw 4,700 interviews conducted between February 15 and 23.

Respondents qualified for the survey only if they had flown commercially in the past 11 months.

About 85% of respondents said governments needed to set Covid-19 targets such as testing capacity or vaccine distribution to reopen borders, while 84% said people needed to manage the risks the virus poses while still living and travelling normally.

Nearly 68% of respondents said their quality of life had suffered as a result of travel restrictions and 47% said the restrictions had gone too far.

Respondents also reported mental stress as a result of missing “human moments” such as wedding, funerals and family gatherings, while a third said they had been unable to do business normally.

The survey showed that while there is public support for travel restrictions, it was becoming clear that people were feeling more comfortable with managing the risks, Iata said.

People want to get back to travel, but quarantine is the showstopper.
Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac

“The top priority of everybody at the moment is staying safe amid the Covid-19 crisis,” said Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

“But it is important that we map a way to being able to reopen borders, manage risks and enable people to get on with their lives.”

De Juniac said it was becoming clear that society would need to learn to live and travel “in a world that has Covid-19”.

Airlines should be ready to reconnect the world as soon as borders reopened, he added.

It was critical to kick-start the airline industry this year, said Linden Birns, CEO of local aviation consultancy Plane Talking.

“Biosecurity measures are clearly defined and show that airlines can provide for air travel without compromising passenger safety,” he said.

The robust safety protocols implemented by airlines meant that flying was probably safer that going to your local coffee shop, he added.

Vaccination remained key to reinvigorating travel, the survey showed, with 81% of respondents saying they would be more likely to travel once they have had the jab.

About 57% expect to be travelling within two months of the pandemic being contained - up from 49% in September – but 84% said they would not travel if they had to be quarantined on arrival.

“People want to get back to travel, but quarantine is the showstopper,” said De Juniac.

“As testing capacity and technology improves and the vaccinated population grows, the conditions for removing quarantine measures are being created. And this points us again towards working with governments for a well-planned reopening as soon as conditions allow.”

Vaccine passports – such as the yellow fever and cholera vaccination card that SA travellers are required to carry to certain SADC countries – are likely to become one of the key tools to reopening borders.

Iata was developing a travel pass app which passengers could download to their phones and which will contain up-to-date information on their Covid-19 vaccination status.

Where things fall down is when governments implement unilateral measures.
Plane Talking CEO Linden Birns

The app has been endorsed by Singapore Airlines and is being trialled by several other carriers.

However, for such apps to gain worldwide acceptance, governments needed to ensure that people received a digital Covid-19 test or vaccination certificate and that border control and immigration authorities needed to accept digital certificates on a passenger’s mobile device and not just on paper, said the association.

“Where things fall down is when governments implement unilateral measures,” said Birns. 

“This just creates confusion, inconsistency and uncertainty.”

One possible roadblock for health apps were fears over data protection.

Nearly 80% of respondents to the Iata survey said they would only use such travel apps if they retained full control over their data.

De Juniac said passengers would keep all their data on their phones.