A Vaccine VS. Border Openings – What’s Needed More To Restore Travel Demand?

The current slump in demand for air travel has left many wondering what it will take to restore passenger numbers to their pre-COVID-19 levels. Let’s take a look at the effect that a vaccine or border openings might have on demand.

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What will it take for grounded aircraft capacity to take to the skies again? Photo: Getty Images


Around the world, there are various COVID-19 vaccines being developed and tested at the moment. The most optimistic prognoses are that a vaccine will first be widely available in early 2021, though this still remains uncertain. Vaccine development can sometimes take a decade, and past attempts to rush ahead with distributing a vaccine have, at times, proven dangerous.

However, even when an effective vaccine is found, and even once it is declared safe for use, it will first have to be distributed and then trusted by a sufficiently high proportion of a country’s population before collective immunity is established. This could prove difficult in those countries where anti-vaccine movements have taken root long before COVID-19, and where there has already been opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine even before one has been developed.

Thus, we are likely years away until the full effect of the vaccine can be enjoyed worldwide and, furthermore, this relies on a vaccine being found at all. The pandemic may well be over by then.

Las Vegas McCarran Airport -Getty
While we await a vaccine, airports like Las Vegas are selling PPE from a vending machine. Photo: Getty Images

Border openings

Every country worldwide has seen some level of opposition to travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the pandemic. Whether the argument is framed as a loss of freedom or an over-reaction to a health problem, opponents of travel restrictions believe that the reaction of the governments to the COVID-19 virus has inflicted more significant damage than the virus. Thus, some believe that when travel restrictions are lifted, air travel will rebound.

However, this is highly unlikely. Air travel had slumped long before governments imposed travel restrictions, and airlines were reporting extraordinarily high no-show rates on domestic and international flights worldwide, even when no travel restrictions existed.

For the small share of the worldwide population that is still flying, the experience has become much different. Las Vegas McCarran Airport is selling PPE from vending machines. There are now fewer passenger flights in the US than in China. Temperature screening is now common in immigration queues.

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Temperature screening has become common in airports. Photo: Getty Images

What if it is neither?

So, if worldwide vaccine coverage is perhaps years away, and if travel had slumped before border controls were implemented, what if neither of these two will restore travel demand? What if the aviation industry is being permanently transformed and health check-ups become a permanent feature of the security process? Will this put people off traveling by air? Time will tell.

Do you think a vaccine or border openings are more likely to restore travel demand, or perhaps neither? Let us know what you think in the comments below.