Air travel: how COVID has changed the habits of the French

2020 will truly be a dark year for the airline industry. Aircraft grounded, borders closed, tricks to turn a health disaster into an ecological crisis for which it alone is held responsible. Between the facts (restrictive measures) and more or less objective messages, the French could not but question their habits and the very idea they have of travel.

This is the subject of a recent study by the Pegase Chair at Montpellier Business School, which earlier this year delivered a high-quality report on the public’s understanding of the environmental impact of aviation.

In 2020, only 20% of French people took the plane

Unsurprisingly, few French people got on a plane in 2020: only 20% of them flew this year compared to 63% in 2019!

The reasons? The lack of desire or need to fly, the fear of being quarantined and the fear of getting sick.

It is obvious that between the trips made impossible, the anxiety-provoking messages, the reality of the virus and, let’s not forget, the degradation of the quality of service operated at first by the airlines (and for some it lasts) we have known more motivating contexts.

And without surprise these trips were mainly business trips (twice as much as usual) and mainly concerned Metropolitan France. Other notable facts: a growing popularity for the Overseas Territories and shorter booking times, a consequence of less visibility of the long-term context.

The desire to travel remains intact

Nevertheless, the French still want to travel as 61% of them plan to do so in 2021. A number that is close to 2019 but important to qualify.

First of all, because the French want to take their time. 55% expect to wait at least 6 months. In addition, “nearby” destinations considered safer will be favored.

So if all goes well, as many French people will fly in 2021 as in 2020, but not right away, so less often and maybe less far.

The passenger wants visibility and reassurance

Not surprisingly, in an uncertain environment, what passengers need to get back on a plane is reassurance.

Reassured about the sanitary context first: sanitary measures in airports and airplanes will be key.

Reassured about their trip: the possibility to cancel or postpone their trip depending on the evolution of the restrictions and the crisis is essential.

Reassured about the conditions of their trip: accessibility of the country (open borders) and absence of quarantine will of course be determining factors.

At Travelguys we add a criterion: a non-degraded customer experience. Today, too many airlines have degraded their service under the pretext of health constraints, but in reality they are cost-cutting, all without lowering the price of the ticket. And this is not acceptable! In the same way, we think that if long-haul flights will take the longest to recover, it will recover all the better if passengers will be exempted from wearing a mask on trips of 6 hours or more, which will wait for a vaccine and a more than significant decrease in the presence of the virus.

Good news for the airline industry

This is reassuring news for the players in the sector: when the conditions allow them to increase their offer, their customers will be there. Not immediately and with some precautions but they will be there.

Note that the environmental factor is never invoked by the French to explain their choice, which still means something.

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Image : passenger sad not to travel by Prostock-studio via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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