Air travellers are increasingly frustrated with Covid-19 travel restrictions even as travel slowly resumes globally, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
A survey by IATA revealed that a majority of travellers want freedom to travel to be restored as they were confident the risks of Covid-19 can be effectively managed.
IATA director-general Willie Walsh said many travellers don’t see the necessity of travel restrictions any more.
“People are increasingly frustrated with the Covid-19 travel restrictions and even more have seen their quality of life suffer as a result. They don’t see the necessity of travel restrictions to control the virus,” he said in a statement.
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The survey polled 4,700 people in 11 markets in September and 67% of respondents felt that most country borders should be opened now, up 12% from the previous study in June.
The majority of respondents (64%) also felt that border closures are unnecessary and have not been effective in containing the virus.
For many of the respondents (73%), Covid-19 travel restrictions have negatively affected their quality of life.
Walsh said that the inability to travel had caused many people to miss family moments, personal development opportunities and business priorities.
“In short, they miss the freedom of flying and want it restored,” he said.
Many people around the world are beginning to realise that the virus is here to stay, and they would like to see things returning to normal again.
“The message they are sending to governments is: Covid-19 is not going to disappear, so we must establish a way to manage its risks while living and travelling normally,” he noted.
Quarantine a deterrent
For many travellers, the major gripe about travelling during the pandemic is quarantine requirements.
It was something that Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Datuk Tan Kok Liang noted too.
“With the 14-day quarantine in Malaysia, leisure tourism will be challenging unless, of course, there is a need due to business or other important matters,” he said in an interview.
Only a handful of countries remain quarantine-free for fully vaccinated travellers or do not require quarantine regardless of one’s vaccination status (as long as a negative Covid-19 test result is provided). These include the United States, England, France, Finland, Egypt and Qatar.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently announced that Malaysians will be allowed to travel overseas without going through the Immigration Department’s MyTravelPass.
However, fully-vaccinated Malaysians returning to the country must be tested for Covid-19 three days before their departure, and once again upon arriving in the country.
A decision has yet to be made on the reopening of the Malaysian borders for international tourists.
According to IATA, the biggest deterrent to air travel continues to be quarantine measures. In fact, the majority of those surveyed (84%) indicated that they will not travel if there is a chance of quarantine at their destination.
With the vaccination rates globally increasing, 80% of respondents agree that vaccinated people should be able to travel freely by air.
Interestingly, there were strong views against making vaccination a condition for air travel. About two-thirds felt it is morally wrong to restrict travel only to those who have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, over 80% of respondents believe that testing before air travel should be an alternative for people without access to vaccination.
“People are willing to be tested to travel. But they don’t like the cost or the inconvenience. Both can be addressed by governments,” said Walsh.
He added that the reliability of rapid antigen tests is recognised by the World Health Organisation. “Broader acceptance of antigen testing by governments would reduce inconvenience and costs, costs that the WHO’s International Health Regulations stipulate should be borne by governments.
“It is also clear that while people accept testing and other measures such as mask-wearing as necessary, they want to return to more normal ways of travel when it is safe to do so,” he said.
Vaccine a requirement
While some may be opposed to vaccination status being a requirement for travel, some airlines are putting their foot down for the safety of all passengers and crew.
Earlier this month, AirAsia made it mandatory for all adult guests to be fully vaccinated before being allowed to board any of its flights. Guests under 18 years of age, if unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated, must be accompanied by a fully-vaccinated parent or guardian.
This is part of the airline’s Covid-19 mitigation plan to ensure the highest safety standards, said AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat.
“The decision to accept only fully vaccinated guests for boarding is made in the best safety interest of our guests and employees. All our flights are operated by fully-vaccinated pilots and cabin crew and this applies to all our ground services as well,” he said.
What’s for certain is that people want to travel again after months of having their movement restricted, said IATA’s Walsh.
“With Covid-19 becoming endemic, vaccines being widely available and therapeutics improving rapidly, we are quickly approaching that point in time,” he said, adding that 86% of those surveyed expect to be travelling within six months of the crisis ending.
The challenge now is to make travelling as seamless as possible.
“People tell us that they are confident to travel. But what those who have travelled are telling us is that the rules are too complex and the paperwork too onerous.
“To secure recovery, governments need to simplify processes, restore the freedom to travel and adopt digital solutions to issue and manage travel health credentials,” Walsh concluded.