Airlines’ stricter enforcement of mask-wearing requirements seems to be having a positive effect on consumer confidence, as this past weekend saw 2.3 million passengers take to the skies—up from 1.8 million in late June.
Although new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are still spiking, on August 2, the nation reportedly recorded its lowest daily increase in almost four weeks after reaching an all-time high during July. While it’s unlikely that this small improvement inspired an upswing in air travel, August traditionally heralds the height of the commercial travel season, so perhaps it comes as no surprise.
Experts say, regardless of the reason, more measures will be needed to keep up travel’s increasing momentum, with crackdowns on mask-wearing compliance being a key component in restoring passengers’ sense of safety.
Industry groups are calling for the federal government to impose an official, uniform mandate that air travelers don appropriate face coverings in airports.
The American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) President and CEO, Zane Kerby, last week published an online missive arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must step in to back the mask-wearing policies that have already been implemented by major airlines individually if Americans are to regain confidence in flying again.
“More Americans want to return to the skies,” Kerby said, but, “the desire to control personal health risk, and the fear that others are not doing their part, are powerful deterrents to travel.”
While flyer volumes have lately improved, they’re still nowhere near returning to pre-pandemic levels. Passenger numbers are presently down around 73 percent from this time a year ago, which is still an improvement upon the 87-percent drop seen at the beginning of June. When the full force of the COVID-19 crisis manifested in April, passenger volumes were down by 96 percent year-over-year.
“The face-covering requirement, along with extraordinary cleaning and sanitation practices, are key components in our multi-layered approach to protecting the well-being of our employees and the traveling public,” a spokesperson for Airlines for America (A4A) told The Hill.
Indeed, a bill called ‘The Healthy Flights Act’ has already been introduced in Congress to that end, which would clarify the FAA’s authority to mandate masks for air travelers. Other proposed legislation would have the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) require that passengers undergo temperature checks while passing through airport checkpoints.
Mahmood A. Khan, professor of hospitality and tourism management at Virginia Tech University, believes that the efforts of airlines themselves can go only so far towards improving demand and that a return to pre-pandemic traffic levels depends upon the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. He observed that travel, “is slowly increasing and hopefully once they know there is a vaccine available, many things will change.”