Due to prolonged travel restrictions, demand has been building for a long time now, and data says all those eager travelers are most likely to fly with airlines providing a safe journey, as we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Air Travel Demand on the Rise

As multiple data points suggest, there is a growing appetite among pent up consumers to return to the skies. Our informal poll on LinkedIn had 48% of respondents stating that they “can’t wait to fly,” while only 10% said they would “only fly out of necessity.”

Now we understand this poll should be taken with care given the small sample size and the likelihood of an aviation-centric audience, so let’s zero in with some more robust sources.  

  • According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S airports experienced 18 straight days of 1 million daily passenger screenings (from March 11-28), the longest such streak since the pandemic began. As a matter of fact, that streak has continued through April 11 (the last reported data at time of publication).
TSA checkpoint travel numbers from April 1
  • According to data-analytics company 3Victors, domestic U.S. travel has reached an inflection point, with air travel search trending above 2020 pre-pandemic levels for the first time in 2021.
3Victors search demand data
  • According to United Airlines, demand for domestic leisure travel is back to pre-pandemic levels. “Domestic leisure demand has almost entirely recovered,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “It tells you something about that pent up desire to travel, the pent up desire to remake those connections.”
  • Travel bubbles and digital health travel passes are emerging, which are likely to spur additional demand.  

As you can see, there are a number of data points and signs that point to air travel demand rising, but understanding demand is just one part of the equation.

Outside of revenue management and pricing strategies, how can airlines capture this demand? Or more precisely, what should airlines be communicating to consumers in their marketing?  

Travel Safety Remains a Top Priority  

Even as vaccination numbers increase and certain parts of the world loosen restrictions and begin to open up, travel safety remains paramount among consumers.

We followed up our first LinkedIn poll with another in which 44% of respondents stated they would “pay for trust and safety,” while 47% of respondents cited they would choose the “best priced option.”  

This implies that airlines who can build (or have built) trust with consumers and can supply a safe travel experience at an affordable price will have a leg up on the competition. Again, citing the limitations of our own sampling, let’s dive into some more nuanced sources.  

  • A recent piece of content from Morning Brew looked at how airlines are already focusing on safety. “We’ll still see some level of safety-related messaging continue, at least for the near term. But it’ll shift from ‘It’s safe to fly’ to ‘Here’s how we are still keeping you safe,’” Charuta Fadnis, SVP of research and product strategy at Phocuswright, told Marketing Brew.
  • Another sign that consumers are prioritizing safe travel is their willingness to use health passports while traveling. In a study conducted by Amadeus, 91% of respondents said they would be comfortable using a digital health passport.
  • According to a study from researchers at Florida Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast universities, airlines and airports need to design services and create marketing strategies for passengers dealing with stressful leisure travel. "This would go a long way toward increasing revenues for both airlines and airports at one of the most difficult times ever for the air-travel industry," said Melanie Lorenz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the marketing department of FAU's college of business.

As far as specific measures airlines can leverage to attract consumers, there are several levers to be pulled:

  • Keeping the middle seat free.  
  • Packaging supplemental travel insurance as an ancillary.
  • Making the travel journey as contactless as possible.
  • Having a well-organized boarding and disembarkation approach.  
  • Cleanliness and other hygienic measures.  
  • Continuing to offer flexible booking, rebooking and cancellation options.
  • Pickup service options for airport transfers.
  • Aspirational and emotional-centered communications (such as the Booking.com ad below).

There are tremendous opportunities on the horizon for airlines that can not only accurately gauge and understand demand but can connect with the consumers that represent that demand through relevant offers not just in terms of price, but also by offering the right products with the right message.