Inmarsat Survey Warns Of Reduced Inclination To Travel

Generic Boeing 737-800
Credit: Rob Finlayson

A new survey of passenger attitudes about air travel poses potential long-term problems for airlines seeking to restore traffic in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In what it described as the largest global survey on passenger sentiments since the pandemic began, satellite communications provider Inmarsat said that more than eight in 10 air passengers will change their travel habits as a result of COVID-19, with 41% planning to travel less frequently by any mode of transport.

The company’s Passenger Confidence Tracker, which questioned 9,500 people in 12 countries on the future of flying, found that 83% did not expect to return to their previous travel routines once the COVID-19 pandemic was over. 

Only one-third (34%) of passengers surveyed had taken a commercial flight since the pandemic began, and this appears to have sparked a shift in attitudes to flying. Four in 10 travelers (41%) expected to travel less by any means in the future and a third (31%) planned to fly less. 

This sentiment was even higher among Asian passengers, with 58% in India and 55% in South Korea planning to travel less. The latter figure is particularly significant, as South Korea has been praised for its largely successful efforts in controlling the virus.

Despite these cautionary statistics, there were some slivers of light for the air transport industry: there are early signs that travelers are beginning to feel confident about flying again. Of those surveyed, 47% expect to feel ready to fly within the next six months.

Hungarian and British travelers were most confident, with 26% and 16% respectively saying they would get on a flight today.

However, while 60% of passengers said they were satisfied with the aviation industry’s response to COVID-19, the Nov. 10 survey showed areas to which airlines will have to pay continued attention if they are to win back customers.

“With safety and reputation becoming even more important to today’s flyers, there is a clear need for airlines to differentiate themselves in order to encourage passengers back onto their flights,” Inmarsat Aviation president Philip Balaam said.

Minimizing critical touchpoints in the passenger journey to improve confidence was vital, the survey found.

Travel confidence broadly correlated to levels of public concern about COVID-19. For example, South Koreans and Singaporeans were twice as likely to describe their behavior in relation to the virus as “highly cautious” than Britons.

In one hopeful sign for airlines, passengers said they were currently more fearful of catching the virus abroad than on the plane. In fact, many thought they were at a greater health risk in other environments, such as a gym or public ground transport. 

Travelers said they largely felt confident at passport control, security and in communicating with cabin crew. However, they were less comfortable visiting the toilet inflight and being in close proximity with others. The study indicated that solutions that minimize touchpoints and reduce interactions would go furthest in addressing pain points–such as contactless payments inflight (83%) and staggered security queues (84%).

The current fallback position of most governments of imposing lengthy quarantines on arriving passengers was understandably unpopular, with passengers expressing a preference for a consistent set of measures such as mandatory face coverings or a 48-hour test before travel to improve safety.  

Almost half the people surveyed (44%) said that reputation was now a more significant factor when choosing an airline than it was pre-pandemic. 

The research highlighted that improving the inflight experience was one way to achieve this. From extra legroom (43%) to free baggage (39%), value added services were becoming increasingly important to passengers returning to the skies, the survey said.


Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.