Over 33% of air travellers to avoid flights over infection risk
•‘International flights will boost confidence, local market recovery’
At least three in every 10 air travellers have vowed not to fly anytime soon over possible coronavirus infection during travel.
The finding, courtesy of a global survey conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), showed that a lot of the travelling public were still wary, demanding that both operators and governments should do more to restore confidence.
Meanwhile, stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to consider reopening the international airspace soon, to further drive confidence among air travellers and aid recovery of the local market.
The 11-country survey, which was conducted during the first week of June 2020, assessed travellers’ concerns during the pandemic and the potential timelines for their return to travel. This is the third wave of the survey, with previous waves conducted at the end of February and the beginning of April. All those surveyed had taken at least one flight since July 2019.
Indeed, travellers are taking precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19 with 77 per cent saying that they are washing their hands more frequently, 71 per cent avoiding large meetings and 67 per cent having worn a face mask in public. Some 58 per cent of those surveyed said that they have avoided air travel, with 33 per cent suggesting that they will avoid travel in future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.
Travellers identified their top concerns, which include being in a crowded bus/train on the way to the aircraft (59 per cent), sitting next to someone who might be infected (65 per cent), queuing at check-in/security/border control or boarding (42 per cent), using restrooms/toilet facilities (42 per cent), using airport restrooms/toilet facilities (38 per cent) and breathing the air on the plane (37 per cent)
When asked to rank the top three measures that would make them feel safer, 37 per cent cited COVID-19 screening at departure airports, 34 per cent agreed with mandatory wearing of facemasks and 33 per cent noted physical distancing measures on aircraft.
Passengers themselves displayed a willingness to play a role in keeping flying safe. This is by undergoing temperature checks (43 per cent), wearing a mask during travel (42 per cent), checking-in online to minimise interactions at the airport (40 per cent), taking a COVID-19 test prior to travel (39 per cent) and sanitising their seating area (38 per cent).
IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexandre de Juniac, said people were clearly concerned about COVID-19 when travelling. “But they are also reassured by the practical measures being introduced by governments and the industry under the Take-off guidance developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). These include mask-wearing, the introduction of contactless technology in travel processes and screening measures.
“This tells us that we are on the right track to restoring confidence in travel. But it will take time. To have maximum effect, it is critical that governments deploy these measures globally,” de Juniac said.
Chairman, Airline and Passenger Joint Committee (APJC), Bankole Bernard, said the safety conscious was expected, but travellers would get over it with time.
Bernard, in fact, solicited that the international flights should resume almost immediately after the testing of domestic flight, describing both as complementary.
“Maybe the government can open international flights in two weeks’ time. Remember that Nigeria is an import dependent country. So, our people need to travel out to be able to bring in their goods. We really desire that international flights resume on or before the end of the month to compliment the domestic carriers. The international flights feed the domestic as well,” Bernard said.
The survey also pointed to some key issues in restoring confidence where the industry will need to communicate the facts more effectively.
Travellers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality. While 57 per cent of travellers believed that air quality is dangerous, 55 per cent also responded that they understood that it was as clean as the air in a hospital operating theatre. The quality of air in modern aircraft is, in fact, far better than most other enclosed environments. It is exchanged with fresh air every two-three minutes, whereas the air in most office buildings is exchanged two-three times per hour. Moreover, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters capture well over 99.999 per cent of germs, including the Coronavirus.
There is no requirement for social distancing measures on board the aircraft from highly respected aviation authorities such as the US Federal Aviation Administration, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency or ICAO.
“It is no secret that passengers have concerns about the risk of transmission onboard. They should be reassured by the many built-in anti-virus features of the air flow system and forward-facing seating arrangements.
“On top of this, screening before flight and facial coverings are among the extra layers of protection that are being implemented by industry and governments on the advice of ICAO and the World Health Organisation. No environment is risk free, but few environments are as controlled as the aircraft cabin. And we need to make sure that travelers understand that,” de Juniac said.