Iata research suggests significant levels of consumer concern about the Covid-risks of flying despite industry efforts to address travellers’ fears.

Research on behalf of Iata in major airline markets, including the UK, Germany, France and the US, found three out of five respondents (58%) had avoided air travel and one-third (33%) would avoid flying in future to avoid catching the virus.

The respondents had all flown in the past 12 months.

The survey found two-thirds (65%) of consumers concerned about ‘sitting next to someone who might be infected’, and two in five (42%) concerned about ‘using toilets’, with almost as many (37%) fearful of ‘breathing the air on the plane’.

The top concerns at airports were ‘being in a crowded bus/train to the aircraft’ (59%), ‘queuing at check-in/security/border control or boarding’ (42%), and ‘using airport toilets’ (38%).

Asked to rank the measures that would make them feel safer, 37% cited Covid-19 screening at airports, 34% said mandatory face masks and 33% social distancing on aircraft.

Approximately two in five passengers were willing to undergo temperature checks at airports (43%), wear a mask during travel (42%) or take a Covid-19 test before travel (39%).

However, temperature checks at airports are considered ineffective and social distancing on aircraft has largely been ruled out, while face masks are compulsory on most airlines – suggesting most passengers have yet to become familiar with the new requirements for travel.

Iata director general Alexandre de Juniac said: “People are clearly concerned about Covid-19 when traveling, but also reassured by the practical measures being introduced.

“This tells us we are on the right track to restoring confidence in travel. But it will take time. To have maximum effect, it’s critical governments deploy these measures globally.”

Iata reported the survey results also indicate “some key issues in restoring confidence”.

It noted: “Travellers have not made up their minds about cabin air quality. While 57% believed air quality is dangerous, 55% responded that they understood it was as clean as the air in a hospital operating theatre.

“The quality of air in modern aircraft is far better than most other enclosed environments.

“Additionally, while passengers are sitting in close proximity on board, the cabin air flow is from ceiling to floor. This limits the potential spread of viruses backwards or forwards in the cabin.”

De Juniac said: “It is no secret passengers have concerns about the risk of transmission on board. No environment is risk free, but few environments are as controlled as the aircraft cabin. We need to make sure travellers understand that.”

Almost half of those surveyed (45%) said they would return to travel within months of the pandemic subsiding, but Iata noted this was down from 61% in an April survey.

Two thirds (66%) said that they would travel less for leisure and business in the post-pandemic world and 64% said they would postpone travel until economic factors improved.

De Juniac said: “This crisis could have a very long shadow. Many airlines are not planning for demand to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024.

“Numerous governments have responded with relief measures at the height of the crisis. It is critical governments stay engaged. Continued relief measures will be critical for some time to come.”

The survey identified quarantine restrictions as one of the biggest barrier to aviation’s recovery, with 85% of travellers reporting concern about being quarantined while traveling – similar to the proportion concerned about catching the virus when traveling (84%).

The survey of 4,700 consumers in 11 countries was conducted in June. All respondents had taken at least one flight since July 2019.

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