A new survey by Finnish flag carrier Finnair has some rare optimistic news on the short term future of air travel as the aviation industry navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Until now, most airlines have predicted the havoc that the Corona crisis has wreaked upon the sector could stretch on for several years with industry analysts suggesting demand for air travel won’t return to pre-COVID levels until at least 2023.
But the survey of 3,000 Finnair customers who are members of the airline’s frequent flyer programme has revealed significant interest in returning to the air way before most experts had predicted. Half of those who took part in the poll said they were “eager” to travel by air, while nine out of ten customers said they expect to fly at least once over the next 12 months.
And despite airlines and the entire aviation industry coming under scrutiny for its possible links to spreading the novel Coronavirus around the world, over a third of Finnair customers had a neutral attitude to air travel. Instead, the vast majority (77 per cent) said their biggest concern were travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world to stem the spread of the virus.
But with those travel restrictions starting to be lifted, Finnair is planning to rebuild its network from July onwards with an initial focus on operating around 30 per cent of its normal schedule. The airline plans to target European holiday hotspots where border restrictions are already being eased, as well as a focus on long-haul flights to key destinations in Asia.
“We expect air travel to start gradually recovering from July onwards, and our customer survey supports this – customers are clearly looking forward to future travels,” commented Finnair’s chief commercial officer Ole Orvér.
On Thursday, Lufthansa also said it would significantly increase its planned schedule for June after seeing “growing interest” from passengers who are keenly hoping for a summer holiday. While the German flag carrier will also expand its range of long-haul flights, its initial focus remains on European ‘sun, sea and sand’ destinations – a sentiment that was shared by Finnair’s customers.
Spanish carrier Iberia also said on Thursday that it would resume flights to 40 destinations across Europe from July 1 – the same day as Spain lifts border restrictions and an arrival quarantine requirement.
Finnair’s survey mainly focused on leisure travel but nearly half of those polled also said they were planning a business trip within Europe. One fifth were looking further afield and hoped to holiday in Asia with China, Japan and Thailand the most popular destination being researched by eager travellers.
Passengers will, however, expect airlines to protect them from COVID-19 when they eventually travel again. While cheap airfares and well-timed schedules remained absolute musts, customers are now also looking for airlines that can demonstrate their ability to look after the health of passengers.
Around 65 per cent of those polled said mandatory face mask rules would ease any concerns they had about flying amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.