32% of Americans 'Definitely' Plan to Fly Again in 2020

A large number of consumers are planning to fly again this year, and many say their first flight will be this summer.

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passenger walking thru airport with suitcase

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, many countries have imposed travel restrictions to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus. But as with many things, restriction can lead to an equal and opposite reaction.

As states reopen, many Americans are saying that they either plan on traveling, or might travel, sometime this year. That’s according to a survey of over 1,000 Americans we commissioned in early June.

Here’s what else we found:

Key findings

  • About 32% of American consumers “definitely” plan to travel by plane again before the end of 2020, with men (41%), millennials (39%) and Gen Z (36%) most eager to resume flying. Another 35% are considering it.
  • Among those who will board a plane again this year, 40% will do so this summer in June, July or August. Additionally, 8% said they’ve already flown since March, when the outbreak spread in the U.S.
  • More than 4 in 10 of surveyed consumers who plan to fly this year have been “shamed” by friends, family or colleagues for their choice. It seems Gen Xers have been feeling the heat the most, with 50% of that group saying they’ve been scolded for choosing to fly.
  • Millennials and Gen Xers think airlines are doing enough to make passengers feel safe, but baby boomers aren’t so sure. About 46% of millennials and 43% of Gen Xers are satisfied with the safety measures airlines are taking, but just 26% of baby boomers said the same. Gen Z, the youngest age group, are somewhere in the middle, with 36% satisfied.
  • Road trips appear as a travel alternative, but few respondents feel the same way about trains. Roughly 47% of those surveyed plan to take a road trip before 2020 ends, but just 18% said they’ll definitely travel by train.

To fly or not to fly? Consumers share their thoughts

Survey respondents were split fairly evenly on this point, with 32% saying they will definitely fly on an airplane at some point during the remainder of 2020, 35% saying they might and 34% saying they definitely will not.

Those who are definitely planning on flying cited satisfaction with airlines’ measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (37%) and having a preplanned trip they couldn’t get refunded (33%) as the most common reasons for doing so. Interestingly, 19% of respondents said their reason for flying was that they were not too worried about the coronavirus, while 5% said it was because they wanted to spend airline miles or points.

For those who already have a travel rewards card and have been racking up points from everyday spending, it makes sense that cardholders would want to take advantage of them. But airline cards' points and miles may not go as far as they did before the pandemic, Brett Holzhauer, travel rewards expert at ValuePenguin, noted. This devaluation is because of the accumulation of points that haven’t been used since the coronavirus outbreak, and is a method for avoiding the liability of sudden losses.

“I kind of go back and forth about the status of airline miles right now. There’s a big fear that airlines will go bankrupt and if that happens there’s a chance those points will be worthless” he said. But for those who want to stretch their points to the limit, it may be better to hold off until things settle. And, he added, “If you’re in good health, this is a great time to travel.”

Within the segment that said they might fly before the end of 2020, the criteria were primarily health-related. For example, common responses were that COVID-19 cases would need to significantly decline (54%), health experts would need to say flying is safe (42%) and airlines would need to increase social distancing measures (38%). However, 37% did say that having a compelling reason to travel would be enough cause.

Among those who said they definitely will not fly, common reasons included being worried about getting the coronavirus (46%), not having any reason to fly (41%), flights being too expensive (17%) and airlines not doing enough to prevent spread of the coronavirus (17%).

Consumers split on airlines’ safety measures

Safety has certainly been top-of-mind for many of late, but that doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page, especially when it comes to travel. For example, 40% of consumers think airlines are doing enough to make passengers feel safe while flying amid the pandemic, while 32% are unsure and 29% don’t think they are doing enough.

It’s important to note that there is no federal regulation requiring airlines to enact safety measures regarding COVID-19, meaning it’s up to airlines to create and enforce safety policies. And there have been reports of passengers not complying with the rules airlines have created, which means some flights may not be enforcing their own requirements. And on average, the number of passengers per flight is on the rise, according to data from Airlines for America. That makes the social distancing precautions more difficult to stick to as well.

Airlines’ safety measures are also viewed somewhat differently among different age demographics. For example, 46% of millennials and 43% of Gen Xers are satisfied with the safety measures airlines are taking, while just 26% of baby boomers said the same. Gen Z, the youngest age group, are somewhere in the middle, with 36% satisfied.

Opinions diverged throughout the survey. 48% of men think airlines are doing enough, versus just 32% of women. Still, with 40% of respondents satisfied with what airlines are doing, it’s not surprising that nearly a third feel comfortable flying again. However, some are facing backlash for their decisions to do so: 41% of those who plan to fly this year have been “shamed” by friends, family or colleagues for their choice. And it seems Gen Xers are feeling the heat the most, with 50% saying they’ve been scolded for choosing to fly.

Some travelers will fly this summer, but most aren’t ready to go international yet

Of those who plan to travel this year, 8% said they have already flown amid the pandemic. And the largest segment of those who plan on flying primarily listed June through September, as opposed to later in the year.

The destinations, however, are split rather widely when it comes to domestic versus international travel: The vast majority (67%) of those who definitely plan to fly again in 2020 will stay within the country, but 16% will travel internationally and 17% will travel both domestically and internationally as they have multiple trips planned for 2020.

According to data from SquareMouth, a travel insurance provider, domestic travel for the second half of 2020 is actually only down 5% in terms of the number of travel insurance policies purchased between March 13 (when the White House instituted the official European travel ban) through June 11 when compared to the same time in 2019. On the other hand, international travel insurance sales dropped by 89% over the same time period.

47% of Americans plan road trips as some remain fearful of flying

Airplanes aren’t the only way to travel, and with the allure of a more social-distancing friendly option, road trips present a valid method. In fact, nearly half of Americans (47%) said they will take a road trip at some point in 2020. For those considering that option, Holzhauer recommended getting a rental car as it can be an affordable option, given the overall decrease in costs around travel, and that doing so means protecting your vehicle from potential damages as well as general wear and tear.

Meanwhile, just 18% said they’ll definitely travel by train. That makes sense since concerns about social distancing are still valid and travel by train is generally slower, while still being a more public option than your own car.

For most (77%), however, the coronavirus pandemic has made them at least somewhat more fearful of traveling in the future.

Traveling in the new era

If you plan on traveling, there are many things you should do to help reduce your risk of exposure. For example, bringing your own mask is usually a good idea since not all airlines may provide those to customers. And bringing your own hand sanitizer and snacks from home can help minimize your exposure as well. It may also be worth looking into expedited security programs, which can further protect you by helping you get through security faster and in a separate line from the masses.

From a safety perspective, it’s also best to go with airlines that offer the most stringent policies regarding masks and social distancing. For example, both Delta and American Airlines have announced that those who try to board without a mask will be denied entry and refusing to comply may result in being banned by the airlines. And Air Canada is implementing preflight temperature checks for passengers and also mandating masks.

These policies are just part of the strategy, however, and should always be combined with healthy practices like hand-washing, avoiding touching your face and covering coughs and sneezes, as suggested by the CDC. The same general preventative measures should also be applied to other forms of travel, like road trips.

Travel insurance is another thing that shouldn’t be skipped, said Holzhauer. “We don’t ever expect things to go awry when we travel, but they do. For nearly every single traveler out there, regardless of age or health, travel insurance is something I definitely recommend,” he said. This is especially important when traveling during a pandemic.

Before you leave home, be sure to check out the travel restrictions in place at your destination. That way, you’ll be prepared to accommodate and there won’t be any quarantine curve balls thrown at you.

Ultimately, though, the decision to travel should revolve around your personal comfort level, as Holzhauer added: “It doesn’t matter if you have a million points or a trillion points, what matters most is that you’re healthy. If you don’t feel comfortable, you shouldn’t travel.”

Methodology

ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,020 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded June 12-15, 2020.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z are ages 18 to 23
  • Millennials are ages 24 to 39
  • Gen X are ages 40 to 54
  • Baby boomers are ages 55 to 74
  • Silent generation are ages 75 and older

Devon is a San Francisco-based freelance writer covering all things personal finance. Her work has been featured in publications such as the L.A. Times, Marketwatch, CNBC and USA Today, among others.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).