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Here Come the Frequent Flyers…

Travelers who were frequent flyers before COVID-19 will be climbing back into their seats soon, says report

June 7, 2021

New survey research released by Collinson’s Priority Pass has revealed that pre-pandemic frequent flyers are ready to get back on a plane. Survey respondents reported that they expect to fly nearly six times in the next 12 months.

The global survey analyzed the opinions of over 46,000 members of the Collinson’s Priority Pass program, and revealed that leisure travel will make up more than half of all flights (55 percent) taken in the next year. While business travel will recover more slowly, there is demand from frequent flyers for it to return, with the expectation that business travel will account for 45 percent of flights taken in the next year globally.

Clearly, the report notes, the world’s travelers are readying for a reboot.

“It’s clear those travelers who were frequent flyers before COVID-19 are ready and willing to get on a plane as long as the right measures, such as social distancing and contactless transactions, are in place. However, the travel experience will change, as travelers will begin to demand greater automation and socially distanced spaces such as lounges. As such, all the players in the travel ecosystem need to be fully prepared to manage the surge of travelers who will return in the next few months, and be prepared to deliver a return journey that is as seamless and as enjoyable as possible. Communication and collaboration between all players in the travel industry, and in turn with travelers, will be essential,” said Andy Besant, Managing Director of Travel Experiences at Collinson.

Over a year has passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and people’s lives and travel plans continue to be impacted. In recent months, however, the ongoing global vaccination roll-out has brought a glimmer of hope to those who are excited for travel to return.

When questioned on the possibility of traveling by air in the next 12 months, 78 percent of Priority Pass members expressed feelings of excitement and 61 percent felt confident; findings which will likely be reassuring to the travel industry.

Looking ahead, international travel will accelerate faster year-on-year versus domestic travel. However, domestic travel (at 64 percent) is still set to make a greater recovery than international travel (at 59 percent), when compared with 2019 travel levels.

The survey findings reflect recent air traveler volume across the U.S. Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened an average of 1.78 million people at U.S. airports from Friday through Monday, with a peak of 1.96 million travelers flying through the U.S. on Friday. The numbers reflect the highest levels of air travel since before the coronavirus pandemic began, but remain about 22 percent lower than air travel over Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

And to that end, travel experience expectations have changed dramatically. Today’s travelers report that they want to limit external contact and as a result, have changed the way they experience air travel.

Of those surveyed:

  • 22 percent  are more likely to fly short haul
  • 24 percent are more likely to use unmanned facilities, such as biometric passport kiosks
  • 48 percent are more likely to use airport lounge access than they did before the pandemic
  • 20 percent are more likely to pre-order and collect their food and drinks before departure
  • 49 percent indicated that social distancing and contactless transactions at the airport are of a relatively high importance when travelling.

A Shot in the Arm

The reasons behind growing travel confidence include widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, with 78 percent of travelers worldwide reporting that they feel more confident in the safety of air travel as more people are vaccinated, while 40 percent say they will travel within one month of getting the vaccine. While vaccines have yet to be fully rolled out globally, vaccine availability continues to generate hope, as do the discussions around digital health certificates; with 74 percent of respondents saying they would be happy to use one.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of Priority Pass members say they would feel confident to travel internationally if getting vaccinated became a mandatory measure. This sentiment is echoed by a further 64 percent of travelers who agree that COVID-19 testing and the use of digital health certificates would encourage them to travel abroad.

Quarantines Counter-productive

The survey also shows that while quarantine regulations continue to be enforced around the world, only 29 percent of frequent travelers feel it is an essential safety measure; while a further 72 percent of those surveyed see it as a major deterrent for international travel. When reasons behind this largely negative sentiment towards quarantine are explored in depth, 70 of survey respondents blame the additional costs involved. North American survey respondents in particular were discouraged by the unpredictability of quarantine rules, with 72 percent of survey respondents reporting this as a concern. Additionally, compared to their global counterparts, North American survey respondents were the most concerned with finding accommodations during a quarantine, with 62 percent of respondents citing this worry.

“Our research shows the confidence that frequent travelers have in the coming year, which is hugely encouraging; however, that alone won’t get the world traveling safely again. It’s now up to governments around the world to agree and align on an effective program to restart frequent international travel, using digital health certificates, alongside pre-departure and on-arrival testing to diminish or remove quarantine time, while keeping travelers safe,” said David Evans, Joint CEO of Collinson. With appetites for travel evident, and government alignment hopeful, industry needs to be ready.