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Travelling by plane in 2021: Myth or reality?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The travel industry is at the same level as in 1990, but the deployment of the first vaccines gives hope for summer holidays. But as European governments still advise to postpone booking holidays, travellers are now wondering what that means for their holiday plans.

It is no secret that the travel industry was severely affected by the impact of COVID-19 in 2020. At times, most airlines cancelled up to 90 percent of their flights. But now the first vaccines against the virus are on the market and the desire to travel is on the rise. While the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) says it could take another two and a half to four years for the travel industry to return to 2019 levels, consumers do not want to wait that long. "We expect that the industry could see a recovery regarding leisure travel, especially in the second half of the year. The first airlines are already announcing that they want to expand the offer again this year," says Tom van Bokhoven, CEO of the air passenger rights specialist Lufthansa recently announced its intention to offer up to 50 percent of all flights this year and other airlines, like Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air even want to offer 73 percent of their capacity, compared to 2019. For travellers who want to take advantage of this offer, however, there are still some particularities to consider in 2021.

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Am I only allowed on planes if I have been vaccinated?

Vaccinations will not be compulsory; this has already been made clear several times. Nevertheless, airlines have the right to decide what happens on their planes, and other countries can also make entry dependent on a previous vaccination. In principle, this is nothing new. Certain vaccinations are already required to enter some countries. Additionally, Australian airline Qantas has already announced that it wants to introduce compulsory vaccinations for intercontinental flights in the future. Lufthansa, on the other hand, will probably apply a dual approach. According to media reports and information from the airline's CEO Carsten Spohr, the company will proceed in several phases. First, passengers will have to provide a negative rapid test; in the following phase, passengers can choose whether to provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination; and as soon as the global population has sufficient immunity, proof will no longer be required.

"The International Air Transport Association (IATA) will most likely rely on a digital passport that can store COVID-19 test results as well as proof of vaccination. A corresponding app for this is currently being developed. The goal of the air transport industry is to make quarantine requirements unnecessary. Whether this can be made possible through negative tests alone, or only through compulsory vaccination, remains to be seen," says van Bokhoven of

What if I cannot fly after all?

Travellers who are confronted with a positive COVID-19 test at short notice or who do not follow the airlines' guidelines, for example providing them with proof of vaccination or a negative test, are not entitled to a refund for their flights. However, most airlines have adapted to the crisis and unpredictable circumstances and offer flexible booking conditions. Often, passengers who no longer wish to travel can obtain a voucher for a later flight from the airline. It is therefore advisable to read the airline's booking conditions carefully. However, if a flight is cancelled due to the effects of COVID-19, such as travel restrictions that have been imposed, passengers are entitled to a full refund of their ticket costs. "Unfortunately, we have seen many airlines disregard this legal obligation over the past year. Less than 5 percent of all claims are paid out to passengers within the legal deadline of seven days after cancellation. Last year we received about 60,000 requests from passengers who needed help claiming their refund," says van Bokhoven.

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Where can I travel this year?

Long-distance travel will probably play a minor role this year. As was the case last year, the next few months will be marked by fluctuating infection levels and travellers will have to cope with sudden or discontinuing travel restrictions. "The lack of plannability will probably lead to an increase in short-term bookings," says van Bokhoven. It can be assumed that because of this there will be an increase in short-haul and medium-haul flights on offer. Travellers will probably spend their holidays this year mainly in their own country or at most in other European countries. The most popular holiday destinations this year could therefore look similar to those in 2020 when Spain was among the most popular destinations.

Will flights be more expensive this year?

While some carriers have announced that they expect an increase in ticket prices, Ryanair has already announced a price war for 2021. Some providers reckoned that due to the onset of vaccinations, the desire to travel could return faster than planes could be stationed at airports. Thus, tickets for the few available flights would become more expensive. Ryanair, however, wants to put a spanner in the works. Only recently, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary spoke about wanting to greatly expand the airline's offer this year. The airline is contacting various airports and hoping for good conditions. This tactic seems to be working, as most European airports are currently reacting with relief when more aircrafts are to be stationed. "Ryanair believes that a return to pre-COVID-19 levels of air travel is only possible through aggressive pricing. By expanding its offer, the airline could thereby actually trigger a price war and passengers could expect cheaper tickets," explains Tom van Bokhoven of At this moment, Ryanair is already advertising a 10 percent discount on more than 500,000 seats for flights during the summer. Additionally, the airline tries to increase bookings by advertising its flexible booking conditions.

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