US frequent flyers seem eager to resume travel, but business travel remains stagnant

17 July, 2020

Almost two thirds of frequent flyers in the US are aiming to return to air travel during the next six months, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of those passengers will travel for leisure as there's been little movement off the bottom in business demand.

The findings are from a survey by Washington, DC-based Xenophon Analytics of more than 3,000 frequently flyers that are self described members of the loyalty programmes of major US airlines. It highlights that 60% of respondents plan to travel by air during the next six months.

Almost two thirds (63%) of those are planning personal travel, 10% are travelling for business and 27% travelling for a mixture of both. Of those travelling for pleasure, two thirds will be taking a holiday or vacation and one third will be attending an event such as graduations, weddings or anniversaries.

Prior to the pandemic 73% of the road warriors in the database took more than three trips per year, and 38% flew six or more times, the company stated. However, the vast majority (84%) have now not flown since the Covid-19 crisis was declared a pandemic and health emergency in mid-Mar-2020. A similar number (86%) have had to cancel or postpone travel plans due to the pandemic.

"It is clear from the data that after months of quarantine and restricted movement, people have cabin fever and want a vacation," explains Xenophon president David Fuscus. "But business travel will be anaemic, possibly because of continued work travel restrictions and the widespread use of video conferencing and other remote work technologies," he adds.

As some frequent flyers resume air travel, in addition to social distancing, empty middle seats, and the donning of face masks, contactless technology is rising in importance and is a major expectation among travellers.

Xenophon's research shows that 86% of the flyers ranked contactless technology as important in helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and most prefer to see it at check-in and baggage drop, security screening and during boarding of a flight.

Around two thirds (68%) of the respondents conclude that the pandemic would lessen privacy concerns about biometric technologies including facial recognition, and make the "technology's integration into everyday life more acceptable," according to the public opinion company.

These are all short-term solutions to support traveller needs but ultimately a long-term solution is what most frequent flyers are looking towards. A treatment and or vaccine for Covid-19 is the most important development to make them feel it is safe to fly again ahead of a clear decline in the number of cases and deaths.

The survey provided some additional insights into frequent flyers' activities and thought-processes. The 3,000+ respondents included members of a host of different airline loyalty programmes with more than two thirds (71%) participants in more than one plan and one in five (22%) signed-up to four or more.

The power of loyalty for airlines is clear with eight out of ten of the frequent flyers (80%) booking directly with the airline, just 15% using an online travel agent and only 5% a traditional travel agent. In fact, three in five (61%) say they have never used an online travel agent service that offers a person to assist with ticket booking. Around a third (35%) say they would not consider using such a service in the future, although one in five (23%) would.