Airline travel around the Asia-Pacific region remains significantly down on pre-pandemic levels. International passenger numbers in the region in August were just 4% of August 2019 levels. But amid the gloom, there are some reasons to be optimistic.
Recent data from the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) reveals just 1.4 million passengers caught an international flight within the Asia-Pacific region in August. This is just 4% of the 34 million passengers who flew an international sector within the region in August 2019.
“International travel markets in Asia have been in stasis,” AAPA Director General Subhas Menon said about the August numbers.
Passengers preparing to fly as confidence creeps back
Earlier this week, Inmarsat released its Asia Pacific findings from its Passenger Confidence Tracker 2021 report. The report surveyed 4,500 airline passengers living in the Asia-Pacific region. This included passengers from Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and India.
While 91% of the surveyed passengers said the pandemic had changed their travel habits, a result AAPA’s numbers confirm, 51% of surveyed passengers said they would be confident to fly by the end of the year. Mandatory proof of vaccination for all passengers would see 60% of surveyed passengers feel more confident about flying.
“Our latest Passenger Confidence Tracker reveals that travelers in Asia-Pacific are the most confident towards pragmatic steps for travel and have positive attitudes about returning to the skies,” David Coiley, Inmarsat Aviation’s Regional Vice President for Asia-Pacific said.
Inflight hygiene matters as passengers focus on cabin cleanliness
The survey found passenger concerns regarding flying continue and primarily centre on the inconvenience and unpredictability of air travel. The top three barriers amongst the surveyed Asia-Pacific region passengers are catching the virus abroad (60%), quarantining (53%) and unpredictable border closures (40%).
“With safety and reputation becoming even more important to today’s flyers, there is a pressing need for airlines to embrace new opportunities and differentiate themselves to encourage passengers back onto their flights as travel continues to resume,” adds Mr Coiley.
Passengers are placing increased importance on inflight health and safety. Airlines that focus on this, communicate that focus to passengers, and walk the talk bolster passenger confidence. An airline’s reputation is now closely aligned with cabin hygiene and cleanliness.
The Inmarsat survey found nearly half of the region’s passengers favor COVID passports. The survey found digital health passports (46%), thermal scanning (45%), destination status alerts (41%), and tracing app verification (41%) were all pre-flight confidence boosters.
Vaccine inequity is a recurring issue across the Asia-Pacific region
One of the recurring issues in the Asia-Pacific region is vaccine inequity, something Subhas Menon has previously raised concerns about. Selected countries in the region have soaring vaccination rates, whereas others lag. This has lead to worries about a two-tier travel market emerging – the vaccinated able to move relatively freely in 2022, however the unvaccinated cannot.
“Vaccination inequity remains a major stumbling block to the reopening of borders in the region, especially in places that have little to no access to vaccines,” Mr Menon said.
But AAPA’s Director-General does acknowledge the acceleration in domestic vaccination roll-outs in several Asian countries. He calls this a positive step towards the resumption of air travel. That has already lead to the progressive relaxation of border controls in certain Asia-Pacific countries. Some countries, such as Thailand, have opened selected destinations to domestic and international arrivals. But Subhas Menon thinks there is more work to be done.
“In addition to accelerating access to vaccines, we also call on governments to refrain from unilateral border measures that will only serve to hinder the much-needed recovery of air travel and the wider economy.
“AAPA continues to advocate for an objective risk-based basis for the easing of border restrictions for quarantine-free travel, in line with WHO and ICAO guidelines.”
What needs to be in place for you to return to flying around the Asia-Pacific region? Post a comment and let us know.