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Flying: The Biggest Challenge to Tourism’s Recovery

The biggest obstacle facing the travel industry’s road to recovery is not the public’s desire to travel,

Doug Cooke

or even their willingness to travel. This is evidenced by the popularity of domestic travel options like RV trips and vacation home rentals this year. And what is the common denominator in those two options? No flight necessary. In fact, the biggest obstacle to the recovery of tourism, and especially international tourism, is the public’s fear of getting on an airplane.


According to an article in the New York Times in August, a survey of nearly 6,500 travelers conducted by Gallup and the financial firm Franklin Templeton found that more than half (52%) of Americans who flew in the past year are not ready to do so again, underscoring the difficulty airlines face in convincing people it is safe for them to get back on planes.


Younger adults are more willing to travel; only a third of those between the ages of 18 and 34 expressed discomfort with the idea. But older adults, who tend to have more time and money to travel, are far more reluctant. Among those 55 or older, 69 percent said they would not be comfortable taking a flight.
“We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself”


Clearly, fear of contracting Covid-19 while flying is the underlying challenge which the airlines, and you as Travel Advisors, are facing. But is this fear justified? Does traveling on planes really present the risk of contracting Covid-19 that the traveling public perceives? To answer that question let’s look at two things: science and the experience of those who have flown recently. 


For a great perspective of the experience of long haul travel right now, read the Dubai article on page 10 of this issue. In it, the writer gives an in-depth and honest look at her in-flight experience. And while she confirms that it is not without its challenges, she also indicates that it was not an anxiety filled experience. 


As for the science,  a new study conducted by United Airlines finds virtually zero risk of  Covid-19 transmission on airplanes. The study, conducted by United and the Deptartment of Defense, claims to be the most “comprehensive” on cabin airflow completed to date and demonstrates that when a passenger is seated and wearing a mask, on average, only 0.003% of infected air particles could enter their breathing zone, even when every seat on the plane is occupied. 


The study occurred entirely on board a United Airlines aircraft and found that fast onboard air recirculation, downward designed air ventilation, and efficient HEPA filters make the cabin of a United airplane one of the safest indoor environments in the world.  For complete details of this study just Google “United Airlines Covid Study.”


Travel Advisors need to be the Evangelists 

As I said in my last Publisher’s Page, communication with your clients is the key. You need to be familiar with the talking points of studies like the one referenced above and make your clients aware of them as well. The travel industry can not afford to wait until a vaccine is available before people are willing to fly again. It will likely be a year before such vaccines are available on a wide scale. Alleviating your clients’ fears of in-flight Covid-19 transmission, along with educating them on safe flying practices, is the key to the rebuilding of the travel industry.

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