According to a public opinion survey carried out by IATA during the first week of June, only 45 per cent of travellers surveyed intend to return to the skies within a few months of the COVID-19 pandemic subsiding. A further 36 per cent said that they would wait six months.
This is a significant change from April, when 61 per cent of passengers said they would resume travel a few months after the pandemic's decline, while 21 per cent intended to wait about six months.
Persistent market uncertainty
The survey results are supported by key trends in travellers, which demonstrate the continuing uncertainty in the market:
- Bookings are down 82 per cent compared to June 2019.
- Bookings on long-haul flights for the first week in November are 59 per cent lower than they are normally.
Historical trends indicate that around 14 per cent of airline tickets are sold 22 weeks before the trip. Current bookings for the week of November 1-7 indicate that the number of tickets sold represents only 5 per cent of 2019 passengers.
Reservations made 20 days or more in advance accounted for 29 per cent of total reservations in May 2020, down from 49 per cent in 2019.
Similarly, 41 per cent of reservations made in May 2020 were made in the three days preceding the flight, more than double the 18 per cent observed in May 2019.
Hesitant to fly
Not everything is bleak, however, as some people have started flying again.
“Each day sees more people traveling. That’s good for the economy. The numbers are moving in the right direction, but we are by no means anywhere near normal or sustainable levels of activity," stated Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive officer of IATA.
Despite everything, the air transport industry remains " still far from a normal situation or a viable level of activity," he continued.
“People are returning to the skies but the horizon of uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is extending. Forward bookings are down, and people are hedging their travel bets by booking closer to the time of travel," Mr. de Juniac stated.
Mr. de Juniac said that the airlines in the northern hemisphere need a strong summer season and a predictable reservation curve to get through the leaner months. "But neither of these conditions are in place and airlines will need continued help from governments to survive a hard winter."
Governments call for help
IATA therefore calls on governments around the world to maintain their aid measures.
In particular, the Association wishes to suspend the 80-20 rule ("use-it-or-lose-it") on the allocation of airport slots. It also calls for the extension of financial aid " in a manner that will not increase the level of indebtedness of the industry ", as well as the extension of wage subsidies and tax relief measures.
"The airlines are going to need sustained help from governments to survive the difficult winter. […] We desperately need financial assistance," stated de Juniac.
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