Frequent flyers unlikely to return after Covid subsides

Business | Reuters 11 Nov 2020

The realization that most business can be conducted virtually teamed with a confusing array of testing and quarantine restrictions means many people don't plan to resume their regular travel routines even once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided, a study byInmarsatfound.

As many as 83 percent of passengers globally are reluctant to fall back into their old travel habits and 31 percent will travel less often by air, the survey of some 10,000 frequent flyers conducted by the London-based firm and released yesterday showed.

Fear of infection means only just over one-quarter of people in the Asia-Pacific region say theyfeelconfident enough to fly again within six months.

When Covid-19 shut international borders and closed down central business districts earlier this year, much of the world's population, outside of those in essential services, was forced to start working remotely. Many firms have found productivity has actuallyincreased, questioning the need for people to always be in an office.

"We've sat in our houses for a long time, we're very used to doing business virtually now," said Chris Rogerson, Inmarsat Aviation's vice president of global sales. "Business travel will come down a little bit as we get used to these interactions being more digital, and airlines will have to adapt to this.

That's added bad news for carriers. Corporate travel can drivebetween 55 percent and 75 percent of profitfor top airlines, although it may only account for as few as 10 percent of passengers. Already airlines globally have let go of hundreds of thousands of staff. Industrylossesare expected to top US$84 billion (HK$655 billion) in 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association.

For those whose reluctance to fly stems more from fear of infection, digital innovations will be key, like the ability to pre-order food for contactless catering, inflight entertainment via a personal device, contactless payment systems and facial recognition technology, the study found.

Unpredictable border closures and confusing safety protocols in different countries are another reason people aren't keen on traveling, the survey found.

"There are many things that need to come together to make travel at the same scale we were seeing in 2019 possible," said Rogerson.

Governments will also need to play a big part in how large numbers of people coming through an airport can best be managed, Rogerson said.

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