July 31, 2020
During the course of the corona virus pandemic, we at the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) have surveyed consumers every 14 days (through a third-party research firm) as a way to gauge public sentiment as we work toward the recovery of the travel industry. Research results are critical to our efforts, as they give us insight into the virus’s effect on public confidence, the anticipated timeline for returning to specific activities and consumer reaction to the government’s pandemic response policies. While challenges remain, the latest survey is encouraging for the travel industry’s long-term prospects. Most importantly, few respondents express the view that the pandemic has hurt their desire to “go and see” the world. Still, some are reluctant to travel this summer because they think, in the words of one respondent, “it’ll be a bit like lock down at home, just more scenic.”
In the absence of reliable, non-invasive, rapid-response virus testing, it’s clear that when it comes to flying, more consumers need the assurance that those they are in close quarters with will act responsibly. Most airline carriers have required a mask for all employees and passengers. But, their authority to enforce mask compliance rests with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Is it high time for the FAA to require the use of masks for all flights? In our view, yes.
Our research confirms that a clearly-communicated and uniformly-enforced FAA mask requirement will sharply increase the public’s confidence in flying and help millions more return to the nation’s skies.
Today roughly 750,000 people a day pass through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints to board a plane. That is up from April but still lags 2019 daily TSA checkpoint traffic by 75 percent or more. While the airlines have stepped up in the absence of a clear federal mandate, this inconsistency is holding back travel’s recovery.
A consistent refrain from consumers is that their willingness to resume any activity is tied to their ability to control the health risks of that given experience. The other pervasive feeling expressed by consumers in our research is that, when they do return to an activity that puts them in close proximity to others, “no one is being quite as careful as I am.” Taken together - the desire to control personal health risk, and the fear that others are not doing their part – are powerful deterrents to travel. Thankfully, a nearly painless public policy fix is within reach.
Do I love wearing a mask everywhere I go – to the grocery store, to get takeout from the local restaurant, or to visit my dad? No. But wearing a mask is a small price to pay to be able to 'go and see.' More Americans want to return to the skies. For them to feel safe doing so, the federal government needs to step up. It’s time for the FAA to mandate mask-wearing on all flights.
Rebranded in 2018 as the American Society of Travel Advisors, ASTA is the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public. Its members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally-based members, ASTA’s history of industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information about the Society, visit ASTA.org. Consumers can connect with an ASTA travel advisor at TravelSense.org.