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Travelers More Confident in the Return to Air Travel

Optimism is boosted by the rollout of vaccines and digital health apps, but frustrations remain with current travel restrictions

March 11, 2021

Travelers are increasingly confident in their ability to return to air travel, according to the latest survey of travelers by the International Air Transport Association. The poll found over half of respondents (57 percent) expect to be traveling within two months of the pandemic being contained.

That’s an increase of eight points since September 2020, boosted by the vaccine rollout; over four in five (81 percent) travelers say they will be more likely to travel once they have received their COVID-19 inoculations.

However, respondents expressed frustration with current travel restrictions, and they support digital health passports.

While air travel may be on the rebound, the survey found a business travel revival will still take time, with 62 percent of travelers saying they are likely to travel less for business even after the virus is contained. However, this is a 10 point improvement from September when 72 percent thought they would travel less.

Nearly half of those travelers polled (49 percent) say air travel restrictions have gone too far, and a vast majority (84 percent) still choosing not to travel if it involves quarantine at the destination, a number largely unchanged from September.

The poll also reveals the mental health impact of curtailed travel, with 68 percent agreeing that their quality of life has suffered due to such measures.

The findings suggest that while people want to return to travel, most respondents (88 percent) say the right balance must be struck between managing risks and restarting the economy, with 84 percent believing that “the virus will not disappear and that we need to manage its risks while living and traveling normally.”

The development of digital health passports, while viewed as controversial in some quarters, finds support among travelers, with a majority (80 percent) of respondents to the IATA poll strongly approving of the technology as a way to reopen borders across the world.

The IATA Travel Pass is one of several digital health apps that are currently in development or being tested around the world. Singapore Airlines has announced an expansion of the program it first rolled out in December, and several carriers have signed up for trials in the coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are beginning to offer digital vaccination certificates to facilitate travel for their citizens who have received COVID-19 shots. China became one of the first countries to offer such a vaccine passport this week, and both the EU and ASEAN countries are poised to adopt similar measures.

However, the IATA survey found even more travelers (89 percent) want to see global standards for vaccine and testing certificates, while nearly as many (78 percent) say they would only use a travel credential app if they have full control over their data.

“The top priority of everybody at the moment is staying safe amid the COVID-19 crisis,” commented Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “But it is important that we map a way to being able to re-open borders, manage risks and enable people to get on with their lives. That includes the freedom to travel.”