While there is a global consensus that rebuilding consumer confidence in air travel is pivotal to aviation industry recovery, it’s not just the effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, testing programmes and health and safety policies at airports that are top of mind for consumers seeking the reassurance they need to book a flight.
According to Cirium’s latest survey of UK travelers to identify levels of confidence in flying, many consumers are also concerned about the safety of aircraft that have been grounded for long periods during the pandemic.
The Cirium Traveler Intelligence Report 2021 UK Survey, which polled 2,105 adults in February this year, found three-quarters (75%) of Brits have some degree of concern around flying in aircraft that have been grounded for over a month due to COVID-19. (Download the full report here.)
These fears, while ungrounded, must not be overlooked.
At the height of the pandemic, Cirium data showed 63% of global passenger aircraft were grounded or ‘in storage’ as airlines slashed flights due to widespread travel restrictions.
Today, a staggering 30% still remain ‘in storage’ globally, equating to 10,010 aircraft – with over 21,761 aircraft in service.
The challenges faced by operators to rebuild demand to 2019 levels continue to dominate the news agenda, yet the effect these unprecedented groundings may have had on consumer confidence is seldom discussed.
While the airline industry has every confidence in its capability to ensure all aircraft are fit to resume operations, as a result of robust protocols for the maintenance of aircraft and engines, these safety measures must be addressed in airlines’ communications to restore passenger confidence in air travel.
UK airline passenger sentiment
With the pandemic and Brexit both taking their toll on UK travel over the last year, the various restrictions on movement have caused ongoing uncertainty for travelers.
But these concerns have not deterred Brits from wanting to fly. In fact, the survey showed 90% of UK respondents intend to fly again in the future, with over half (54%) planning trips in the next 12 months – and leisure trips making up over 80% of their planned air travel.
The desire to travel is particularly strong among younger travelers with 76% of 18-34 year-olds planning to jet off for adventures once restrictions are eased.
In terms of bookings, a third (33%) of those planning to travel intend to book a month or less before their departure date – highlighting that the booking window remains volatile. Interestingly, those likely to make arrangements at short notice are generally younger than those intending to book more in advance.
But what have been the key drivers in restoring confidence to travel?
Unsurprisingly, the global rollout of vaccinations has emerged as the largest, single measure capable of restoring confidence in air travel – with 73% of respondents saying so.
‘Health passports’ are also favored as a prerequisite to flying, with nearly three-quarters (73%) of the British public supporting their introduction. Older travelers, aged 65 years old and above, are even more in favor, with 84% signaling their support of the measure.
Meanwhile, quarantine measures have proven vastly unpopular with the UK public, with only a quarter of those quizzed (28%) saying it would increase their likelihood of flying. Such measures in the UK have included the introduction of a 10-day isolation period in hotels.
But while the UK is seeing a pent-up demand for travel, the pandemic has changed the role airport terminals and lounges play in the overall traveler experience.
The Cirium survey also revealed a change in attitude by those questioned towards the amount of time they wanted to spend at airports. Nearly half (48%) of UK respondents say they will look to spend less time at airports, prior to flying, as a result of the pandemic.
In recent years, airports have sought to increase dwell time, with a greater array of shops, restaurants and exclusive lounges for frequent flyers. After the pandemic, airports will now face the added challenge of ensuring the safest possible airport experience for travelers.
Contactless technology will play a key role in these efforts – with 59% of respondents claiming they are more likely to now use apps for a touchless travel experience.
In terms of destinations, the British public would prefer shorter journeys as they return to traveling, with European short-haul destinations accounting for 60% of proposed flights from the UK.
Regardless, 52% of UK travelers said they would be comfortable travelling to Australia if they had to, while around half would be at ease visiting Ireland (51%) and Canada (47%). Meanwhile, only 11% expressed they would feel comfortable flying to China and India, while just 13% would consider a trip to South Africa.
And when it comes to flying, Brits show a strong preference for UK airlines. 36% of respondents identified British Airways among their favorites, followed by UK-based low-cost carrier easyJet in second place. Airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Ryanair and Jet2.com are also among the top choices.
As restrictions lift and COVID-19 measures begin to build confidence in air travel, the survey points to the value of reassuring passengers about the extensive safety measures which have been put in place within airports and onboard aircraft.
The survey into present traveler sentiment was carried out by independent market intelligence firm Thrive on behalf of Cirium, interviewing 2,105 adults across the UK between February 23 and 25, 2021.
Download the full report, the Cirium Traveler Intelligence Report 2021 (UK edition), for further insight.