On Wednesday we took a look at the lasting damage that 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic have done to the airline industry. However, while the situation does look bleak now, there is definitely some hope on the horizon, with vaccines, mass testing and flexible booking procedures all helping to get the industry back on its feet. So for a healthy dose of optimism, let’s look at five reasons 2021 could be a good year for travel.
Perhaps the most obvious reason to be optimistic about travel in 2021 is the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines. So far the US has authorised both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with orders placed for several others pending approval. A programme of mass vaccination – codenamed Operation Warpspeed – has already begun and could see 100 million people immunised by the first quarter of 2021, according to the White House.
Mass vaccination will have a huge knock-on effect for international travel: allowing passengers to safely board planes without the risk of catching Covid-19 or passing it on. Although a huge number of vaccines will be required to achieve total ‘herd immunity’ several airlines are already investigating technology to help certify that their passengers are vaccinated and do not pose a risk. Several apps, including CommonPass, ICC AOKpass and Verifly are being looked into for this reason.
While mass vaccination is a hugely exciting prospect for the travel industry, it is still a little way off. Universal testing, meanwhile, offers an immediate solution to ensuring passengers are able to travel safely, with some Covid-19 tests offering results in as little as 15 minutes.
For this reason, the aviation lobby group Airlines for America wrote to Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week, urging the government to drop its ban on travellers from the UK, Europe and Brazil in favour of universal testing.
Last month, American Airlines became the first major US carrier to offer passengers at-home Covid tests, allowing them to fly within 14 days of a negative result. If this kind of testing is widely adopted, it could finally spell an end to mandatory quarantine periods and other restrictions on international travel.
3. Cruises Are Back
For those who prefer to travel on the open seas, October brought good news when the CDC finally lifted its ‘no sail’ order on cruise ships, which had been in place since March.
Cruises were one of the early casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases breaking out on several liners while they were still out at sea. However new onboard safety procedures have finally allowed sales to pick up. According to one survey, some 80% of regular cruise-goers have already booked for next year.
These sales will be a much needed lifeline for the industry, which at one point looked at real risk of going under.
4. Pent up demand
Speaking of sales, Americans’ itchy feet might mean that many transport providers can start to turn a profit in 2021. A year stuck at home has made many us even more desperate to see the world, not to mention the many foreign travelers who haven’t been able to come to the US in the past nine months.
Travelers will likely be willing to spend more on vacations in 2021 than they did in 2019, with many feeling like they have to make up for lost time. Testing and vaccines could make this a possibility, with 57% of people surveyed by Expedia saying they would feel comfortable traveling once a vaccine was made available to them.
5. Travel Will Be More Flexible
In a real stroke of luck for the indecisive traveler, several major US airlines – including Delta, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines – have scrapped their fees for changing international flights. Passengers in premium economy and above will now be able to change their international travel plans without incurring a punitive fee, which had been up to $200.
This change is expected to carry over into 2021 and will make it far easier to travel with confidence, even when countries change their restrictions. Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy website also points out that this will increase the value of air miles as they can be refunded and used for other trips with no penalty.