Gallup Poll Shows More Than Half Of Americans Uncomfortable Flying

Credit: FAA

A survey from Gallup and Franklin Templeton of over 10,000 American recent flight passengers found 52% of respondents are not comfortable flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that airlines’ efforts to persuade customers about the safety of flying have had limited success.

The responses vary significantly based on age, with 69% of respondents aged 55 or older saying they’re uncomfortable flying, compared to 33% of those aged 18 to 35. That finding aligns with demographic trends observed during the pandemic, as airline executives have reported their average customer is younger and has less discretionary income than before, boosting the prospects of low-fare operators that cater to cost-conscious and infrequent travelers.

“Directionally, the ages of people on our aircraft have come down during the pandemic, so the average traveling consumer is becoming younger on board,” Spirit Airlines president and CEO Ted Christie said on a recent earnings call. “As you’d expect, with the younger average age, household income has come down a bit as well.” 

Unsurprisingly, the survey found travelers are most hesitant about longer flights, and slightly more comfortable with shorter trips. Of the 10,000 respondents, 44% said they would take a flight with a duration of two hours or less, while just 21% were good with spending six hours or more in a plane—suggesting that a recovery in long-haul demand remains nowhere in sight, even were border restrictions to ease.

Non-essential travel between the U.S. and most countries remains largely banned. While the U.S. State Department on Aug. 6 lifted a travel advisory that advised citizens to avoid all international travel, the immediate impact of the decision will be negligible, as prohibitions on in-bound U.S. travelers remain in place across vast swaths of the globe.

The Gallup poll also found that travelers place a high value on social distancing in the cabin, with 53% of respondents saying they would pay a fee up to $100 to ensure the seat next to theirs remains vacant, while 47% say they would not pay any amount for more space. While the issue of blocking middle seats has split the industry, only one U.S. carrier—Frontier Airlines—has attempted to charge customers extra to block off seats, a policy the ULCC walked back in May following a public backlash on social media. Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are all currently leaving middle seats empty, while American Airlines, United Airlines and most ULCCs are booking to capacity. 

The web-based survey polled more than 10,000 American adults between July 2 and July 14, all of whom reported flying at least once in the last year.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.