March 09, 2021

As COVID-19 Cases Trend Downward, More People Comfortable to Travel; Support for Vaccine Passports Exist

Against the backdrop of improving COVID-19 trends in the United States, travelers are beginning to express less concern about taking to the skies. And as they do, support exists not only for continued safety measures, but for proof of vaccination as a means to transition back to “normal.”

As of Feb. 17, daily confirmed COVID cases are down 68% nationally since their peak on Jan. 11. It seems as if those positive trends – coupled with a nationwide vaccine rollout that has, on average, administered more than 1.5 million shots per day this month – is having a significant effect on customer sentiment as it pertains to air travel.

To get a sense of just how significant, our researchers generated this report from J.D. Power Passenger View, an in-airport passenger surveying solution delivering real-time feedback on traveler attitudes and concerns.

The Passenger View data in this report is based on more than 1,500 respondents traveling through a major U.S. airport the week of Feb. 3-10. It suggests that – if current trends continue the path to recovery for the travel industry could be coming into focus.

Concern About Contracting COVID-19 is Lessening Among Active Travelers

February’s positive news seems to have somewhat calmed the anxiety of travelers. For the first time in since summer 2020, more customers are “unconcerned” (25%) about being exposed to COVID-19 while traveling compared with those who are “extremely concerned” (15%).

J.D. Power Travel Insight Covid Exposure

While there’s still a fair amount of concern about being exposed, 58% of respondents expressed moderate-to-little concern. That should make airlines very bullish about the second half of 2021, when the mass availability of vaccines could render travel restrictions obsolete.

Vaccine Not Likely to Change Travel Plans but Support Exists for Vax Passports

That said, on its own, the current vaccine situation hasn’t had a huge effect on current travelers’ willingness to travel in the future, either positively or negatively. Four of 10 travelers said they planned to travel just as much as before vaccine was developed, while nearly one-third said the presence of a vaccine did not make them more willing to travel and will not travel as often as they had in the past. Still, nearly one-third of travelers are eager to travel once they are vaccinated, which again points to a significant number of customers returning to the market throughout 2021.

J.D. Power Travel Insight Covid Vaccine Chart

Would proof of vaccination in the form of “digital vaccine passports” increase these figures? Most travelers are in favor of the initiative. Two-thirds of respondents think that vaccine passports are a good idea, while one-third do not.

J.D. Power Travel Insight Covid Vaccine Passport Chart

Travelers Still Value Masks, and Will Likely Hold Onto Them in the Future

As has been a constant throughout the period we have been tracking this data, mask wearing by passengers and staff is, by far, the most important safety measure to travelers. Despite surface-to-person transmission being extremely rare, improved cleaning at touchpoints (16%) and use of hospital-grade disinfectants (6%) were the next-most important measures to travelers.

J.D. Power Travel Insight Covid Safety Measures Chart

Travelers aren't likely to ditch these safety measures immediately after the COVID-19 threat has passed. The number of respondents who said they are likely to adhere to safety precautions like mask wearing and social distancing through 2021 and beyond is up slightly to 42%.

J.D. Power Travel Insight Post Covid Chart

The number of travelers that are likely to stop wearing masks and social distancing immediately after the threat has passes decreased slightly to 21%. It’s worth noting, based on guidance from several experts, that even vaccinated people should continue to wear masks. While that guidance could change with more robust data on real-world evidence of post-vaccination immunity these specific vaccines offer, it does give airlines and other stakeholders a glimpse into what the bulk of travelers will expect throughout the rest of 2021.

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