The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing 290 airlines comprising 82 percent of global air traffic, reported that air travelers are increasingly frustrated with the COVID travel restrictions. A survey commissioned by IATA of 4,700 respondents in 11 markets in September demonstrated confidence that the risks of COVID can be effectively managed and that the freedom to travel should be restored.
- 67 percent of respondents felt that most country borders should be opened now, up 12 percentage points from the June 2021 survey
- 64 percent of respondents felt that border closures are unnecessary and have not been effective in containing the virus (up 11 percentage points from June 2021).
- 73 percent responded that their quality of life is suffering as a result of COVID travel restrictions (up 6 percentage points from June 2021).
On top of restrictions, it’s been a frustrating time for travelers as airlines reduce or limit routes, face critical staff shortages, or, as was the case numerous times this summer and fall, flights have been outright canceled. The issue this past weekend with Southwest Airlines canceling more than 2,000 flights over three days was a painful reminder that demand is there but supply is not quite able to keep up. “People are increasingly frustrated with the COVID travel restrictions and even more have seen their quality of life suffer as a result. They don’t see the necessity of travel restrictions to control the virus. And they have missed too many family moments, personal development opportunities and business priorities. In short, they miss the freedom of flying and want it restored. The message they are sending to governments is: COVID is not going to disappear, so we must establish a way to manage its risks while living and traveling normally,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.
There was a bit of good news for international travel to the US: Starting in November, the Biden administration announced that it would lessen restrictions on international travelers who are fully vaccinated.
Support Grows for Testing or Vaccination to Replace Quarantine
The biggest deterrent to air travel continues to be quarantine measures, with 84 percent of respondents indicating that they will not travel if there is a chance of quarantine at their destination. A growing proportion of respondents support the removal of quarantine if:
- A person has tested negative for COVID (73 percent in September compared to 67 percent in June)
- A person has been vaccinated (71 percent in September compared to 68 percent in June).
With the vaccination rates globally increasing, 80 percent of respondents agree that vaccinated people should be able to travel freely by air, with strong views against making it a condition for air travel. About two-thirds felt it is morally wrong to restrict travel only to those who have been vaccinated. More than 80 percent of respondents believe that testing before air travel should be an alternative for people without access to vaccination.
While 85 percent are willing to be tested if required in the travel process, several issues remain:
- 75 percent of respondents indicated that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel
- 80 percent believe that governments should bear the cost of testing
- 77 percent see the inconvenience of testing as a barrier to travel
“There is a message here for governments. People are willing to be tested to travel. But they don’t like the cost or the inconvenience. Both can be addressed by governments. The reliability of rapid antigen tests is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). Broader acceptance of antigen testing by governments would reduce inconvenience and cost—costs that the WHO’s International Health Regulations stipulate should be borne by governments. It is also clear that while people accept testing and other measures such as mask-wearing as necessary, they want to return to more normal ways of travel when it is safe to do so,” said Walsh.
High Confidence With Travel Experience, Struggling With COVID Rules
Among those who have traveled since June 2020, 86 percent felt safe on board the flight with safety measures.
- 87 percent believed protective measures are well implemented
- 88 percent felt airline personnel are doing a good job in enforcing rules
With more markets starting to open to travel, an area that needs to be addressed is the COVID-related travel rules and requirements.
- 73 percent of those who have traveled since June 2020 found it challenging to understand what rules applied for a trip (up from 70 percent in June)
- 73 percent felt the COVID paperwork was challenging to arrange (also up from 70 percent in June)
To view the full results of this survey, click here.