COVID-19: UAE residents wary of air travel despite end to restrictions

People in the UAE and other major markets around the world are showing little enthusiasm for air travel even after travel restrictions have been lifted, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Nearly four in ten (36 percent) of those polled in a survey commissioned by the IATA in June said they would wait six months or so to travel after the pandemic subsides, up from 28 percent in April. More people (14 percent compared to 8 percent in April) also said that they would rather wait longer, about a year or so, before boarding a plane.

The number of eager flyers - those who said they would jump right back into travelling after the situation abates - also declined from 14 percent to 12 percent during the same period.

“[Based on the survey results,] we can expect that this crisis will have a long shadow. Fewer passengers are saying that they will travel again in the first months after the pandemic subsides,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said during a media briefing.

The survey was conducted during the first week of June 2020 among 4,700 respondents in the UAE, United Kingdom (UK), Australia, Canada, United States, Singapore, Chile, France, Germany, India and Japan. Similar surveys were carried out in February and April 2020.

Airlines in the UAE and many markets around the world have restarted their flights after several weeks of hiatus, as governments attempt to revive the economies from what is said to be the worst crisis of modern times. On July 7, Dubai also welcomed the first batch of international visitors after the travel restrictions have eased.

David Rockland, CEO of Rockland Dutton Research and Consulting, who presented the results of the study, said concerns about contracting the virus remain high among respondents, with 90 percent of those polled in April saying they are very concerned or somewhat concerned of getting infected, up from 78 percent in February.

“It’s high across the board. It’s been high since February,” Rockland said.

The study also found that the UAE tops the charts in terms of the number of respondents who know someone who might be infected by the virus (66 percent), higher than in worst-hit countries like India,  (60 percent), United Kingdom (59 percent), Chile (57 percent), France (55 percent) and United States (48 percent).

The number of coronavirus cases in the UAE has reached more than 52,000, with over 40,000 recoveries and 324 deaths. Dubai’s tourism sector is now quite optimistic that things will “normalise” soon, especially since it has reopened the emirate to international visitors.

De Juniac said their survey showed that passengers will not be prepared to travel if governments continue to impose quarantine. IATA has been advocating for the implementation of the “Take-off Guidelines” by the Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for a safe and harmonious return to air travel. The guidelines don’t recommend that travellers be subject to quarantine upon arrival.

“This week, we have seen the UK and the European Union adopt or announce alternatives for what are perceived as low-risk destinations. Other destinations are using testing as a screening methodology – although doing this accurately, quickly and at scale still poses challenges,” he noted.

He also pointed out that as more countries implement the ICAO guidelines, the better deterrence the industry will have to symptomatic travellers because of health checks and declarations.

“On top of this, airlines are offering flexibility in re-booking, so there is no economic incentive to travel when sick,” he added.




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