Going on Vacation During COVID-19: How Comfortable Are People Traveling During the Pandemic?

By Sydney Wess / 23 July 2020

About two-thirds of Americans are uncomfortable with flying during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our data shows that people have adjusted their summer plans due to their discomfort, but have not abandoned travel altogether. 

People across the United States typically spend the cold winter months at the start of a new year eagerly planning warm summer getaways with family and friends. 

In 2019, AAA determined that 62% of leisure travelers had summer plans. 

This year, travel restrictions and dramatic decreases in commercial airline flights and hotel stays indicate that the summer of 2020 will be different.

Personally, I had eagerly circled a week in early August on my calendar in anticipation of taking a trip to Nashville. Like many Americans, I ended up canceling my trip due to summer surges of COVID-19.

Between air travel, hotel stays, and exploring an unfamiliar city, my concerns about contracting and potentially spreading the virus encouraged me to change my expectations for summer travel. 

The Manifest surveyed 351 Americans in May 2020 and another 501 Americans in July 2020 to determine how the coronavirus is affecting their willingness to travel.

We found that significant travel discomfort exists, but people are still searching for new ways to travel safely. 

As the summer season continues and vacation plans approach, Americans will have to reevaluate their personal comfort with travel, factoring in the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Should People Travel Within the US During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

  • In July 2020, 50% of Americans said they would be very uncomfortable traveling by plane in the next month, a slight increase compared to May 2020 (48%). The excitement of the summer season has not improved people’s comfort with air travel during the pandemic.
  • People in U.S. regions experiencing COVID-19 surges – the South and West – revealed greater discomfort with air travel in July 2020 than in May. Those in regions that “flattened the curve” since May 2020, for example the Northeast, are showing less extreme discomfort in July 2020.
  • Only 15% of people are continuing to make travel plans for the remainder of 2020.
  • The majority of people (55%) have either stopped planning or canceled upcoming trips. However, only 23% of Americans have fully canceled their travel plans, indicating that some are still holding onto hope for travel in 2020.
  • People ages 18-34 experience the least discomfort with travel during COVID (44%–45%) while those 55 and older expressed the highest levels of discomfort (56%–59%). 

Americans Aren’t Confident About Travel Safety During COVID-19

As the negative effects of COVID-19 persist, people across the United States aren’t comfortable following through on their summer travel plans. 

In both May 2020 (48%) and July 2020 (50%), about half of Americans admitted to being very uncomfortable with air travel this summer.

People's Comfort Flying in the Next Month

About 2 in 3 Americans (67%) were at least somewhat uncomfortable with getting on a plane in May 2020, and that discomfort remained constant through July (67%).

Data comparing 2019 and 2020 checkpoint travel numbers from the TSA confirms that the hesitations surrounding recent surges of COVID-19 cases this year, despite the popularity of summer travel.

Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies, was anticipating summer travel but isn’t ready to get on a plane until additional steps are taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I am excited to be able to go out and travel. It’s a great time of year for it, and it seems like a waste to be at home for most of the day,” Roderick said. “If there were a vaccine and more organization for travel lines, I would be more than happy to travel by air again.”

Many are waiting on such a vaccine to resume air travel. However, a trusted, widely-distributed vaccine is likely at least months away, so some may be avoiding plane travel into 2021.

Regional Hotspots Affect Travel Comfort Levels Across the U.S.

Americans in or around a COVID-19 hotspot are least comfortable with the idea of traveling.

In May 2020, states in the Northeast showed the greatest levels of discomfort with air travel compared to other U.S. regions. Two out of three people in the Northeast region (67%) were very uncomfortable with plane travel in May 2020.

Where Are People Least Comfortable About Travel in May 2020

The dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the spring of 2020 likely accounted for the region’s extreme discomfort with travel, especially within the New York metropolitan area.

Once many states in the Northeast successfully flattened the curve, residents began feeling more comfortable with the idea of travel. 

By July 2020, only about half of the people living in the Northeast (51%) were very uncomfortable with air travel, a decrease of 16% over the course of two months.

The South and West, however, both experienced increases in travel discomfort from May to July 2020:

  • In the South, 58% of people were very uncomfortable with flying in July, compared to 48% in May.
  • In the West, 43% of people were very uncomfortable with flying in July, compared to 38% in May.

Many states in these regions have not flattened the curve and are seeing spikes in positive cases of the virus. Those living near coronavirus hotspots may be deterred from traveling due to a feeling of increased risk.

People Are Still Taking Road Trips

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, the U.S. travel industry has tracked more than $273 billion in losses. New research, however, reveals that the travel economy has sustained continuous expansion for over two months.  

Arrivalist states that road trips are becoming the popular vacation style for 2020. 

 

Source

For example, road travel over the July 4th holiday weekend exceeded pre-pandemic travel road travel by 12%. That’s only a 9% decrease compared to 2019’s July 4th holiday.

Enthusiasm and continued spending surrounding road trips indicate that Americans feel safer from the spread of COVID-19 when traveling by car. 

Melissa James, travel-lover and owner of Creative Copy & Design, was planning on going on a family cruise in August 2020. After the trip was canceled, she opted for a road trip through New England that month instead. 

“Since we'll be in our own car and can do most of our site-seeing outdoors or socially distance in museums, we feel it's the most reasonable compromise,” James says.

Eager to travel, Americans like James are replacing their initial plans with more social distance-friendly road trips. 

Few Continue to Make Travel Plans, But Not Everyone Is Canceling Plans

While people are no longer keen on budgeting for their summer vacations, some are hesitant to cancel their plans.

Currently, only 15% of Americans are continuing to make travel plans for the rest of 2020.

Only 15% of people are still making travel plans for 2020.

 

Strong discomfort with travel across the US may cause people to postpone their travels into 2021 and beyond. 

Family travel bloggers Pam and Marty Whyte are among the most eager to begin traveling again. They, however, opted to postpone their travel to Germany and the Grand Canyon for their family’s safety.

“We were super excited to visit both of these locations for the first time, and our kids were beyond excited,” Whyte said. “We were very uncomfortable getting on an airplane and even being in touristy areas, so we decided to postpone our trip for two years.”

The family doesn’t plan on flying again until cases of the virus are rapidly declining around the world, despite their enthusiasm for seeing the world. 

The Whytes share concerns with the 55% of Americans who have either stopped making or canceled their 2020 travel planning. 

 

How People Changed 2020 Vacation Plans Due to COVID-19 Graph

 

Americans’ hesitation to cancel plans is disproportionate to their concerns about the threat of COVID-19 during travel. 

Less than one-quarter of people (23%) have gone through with canceling their 2020 travel plans at this point. 

This indicates that people are still looking for ways to travel safely during the pandemic and are unwilling to completely write off travel plans.

Business Travel Experienced the Greatest Decline During COVID-19

Travel is down across all categories, but spending on business travel has plummeted more dramatically than others.

Business travel contended with family and leisure travel flights at the beginning of 2020. Relative to January 2, 2020, business travel has fallen by about 80%.

 

Source

 

Both family and non-family leisure travel experienced a similar drastic decline in flight volume. Leisure travel, however, has since picked back up to 30% to 40% of pre-pandemic travel numbers.

With many companies still encouraging employees to work from home, likely until 2021, businesses are more focused on creating a productive remote work environment than navigating the risk of business travel planning. 

Some companies, like Twitter, are intending to allow some employees to work from home “forever”. The growing sense of permanence surrounding remote, virtual engagement and collaboration could affect business travel for years to come.

Willie Greer, avid traveler and founder of The Product Analyst, agrees that companies have no reason to endorse business travel, while there are plenty of virtual meeting alternatives. 

“Companies and organizations conducting seminars and the like will be more careful and cautious of hosting such until there is a vaccine available,” Greer said. “No entity would risk peddling their lives for the leisure of business travel, especially when webinars are slowly making its way to the limelight of seminars.” 

As meetings and seminars move online, businesses are less likely to invest in business travel until ensured that employee lives will be safe.

At-Risk Demographics are the Least Comfortable with Travel During COVID-19

Members of older generations, such as Baby Boomers, demonstrate a greater discomfort with air travel during the pandemic.

Americans 55 and older were very uncomfortable in both May (56%) and July 2020 (59%), more so than people between 18-34 years old (45% were very uncomfortable in May and 44% were very uncomfortable in July).

 

What Age Group is Least Comfortable with Travel During COVID-19 Graph

Conversely, those between the age of 18-34 were also more likely to be at least somewhat comfortable with the idea of plane travel than those 55 and older. 

The generations were equally comfortable with flying in May 2020 (16%), but younger Americans (24%) developed a greater comfort with air travel by July 2020 than those 55 and older (19%). 

Older generations of people are at greater risk after contracting the coronavirus. Their more severe concerns about getting the virus may be encouraging them to approach travel with more caution than others. 

Similarly, younger Americans may be more inclined to take a trip because they feel less of an imminent risk with air travel.

COVID-19 Disrupted Summer Travel Plans, But Some Still Evaluating Safety of Going on a Vacation

While travel was on most peoples’ summer calendars, many Americans are hesitant to travel for the safety of themselves and others.

People are more concerned with air travel in regional hotspots or if they are older. Some are replacing planned vacations abroad with road trips to increase their ability to social distance during travel.

Doubts about travel during the pandemic have encouraged people to stop planning trips for the remainder of 2020. Many haven’t yet canceled their existing plans, hoping for safe ways to travel.

Older Americans showed the most significant hesitation to travel by plane this summer. Their increased risk of a severe case of COVID-19 may be keeping them away from airports for now.

About the Survey

The Manifest collected data regarding comfortability with travel from 351 Americans in May 2020.

44% are female; 36% are male; 21% did not identify a gender. 

24% are ages 18-34; 36% are 35-54; 40% of respondents are 55 or older.

20% are from the Midwest; 16% are from the Northeast; 42% are from the South; 22% are from the West.

We also collected data about people’s comfort with travel during coronavirus from 501 Americans in July 2020. 

44% are female; 42% are male; 14% chose not to identify themselves.

27% are ages 18-34; 33% are 35-54; 39% of respondents are 55 or older.

33% are from the Midwest; 11% are from the Northeast; 36% are from the South; 21% are from the West.

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