American travelers have faced myriad headwinds during the past six months, especially during peak travel moments (like the winter holidays) and major weather events.
As a result, you’ve likely heard about widespread delays and canceled flights; unruly passengers; long lines at airport security; travelers getting stuck abroad due to positive COVID-19 tests; and even “trip stacking”—the trend where people book back-up trips in preparation for plan A going awry.
But, do these headlines tell the whole story? Will this be the new normal of travel moving forward?
Last month, we asked nearly 1,300 U.S.-based TripIt users to tell us about their recent (and upcoming) travel experiences. And what they told us revealed a more optimistic narrative about traveling.
To start, Americans are continuing to return to the skies, roads, rails, and seas. Our survey data shows 72% of respondents have traveled on a flight within the U.S. in the past six months; 64% have taken a road trip with a personal car; 29% have taken an international flight; 10% have traveled by train; and 6% have sailed away on a cruise. Better yet, 97% have travel plans in the year ahead.
Here’s what else travelers said about their recent travel experiences and upcoming travel plans.
While some travelers faced flight disruptions, most didn’t
Of those who traveled in the past six months, more than half (60%) said they did not experience any type of flight disruption, cancellation, or delay. Just 12% of people had their flight canceled.
And while there’s no denying there was a rise in unruly passengers in 2021, luckily only 5% of people said they encountered one while traveling.
Indeed, some travelers experienced disruptions, but most were able to get from point A to B with no trouble.
COVID-19 testing for travel is up, canceled plans are marginal
Our data shows that nearly three-quarters of Americans have flown domestically in the past six months, and nearly a third have traveled internationally. So, how did our new travel normal—e.g., COVID-19 testing requirements; travel restrictions; proof of vaccination mandates—play out when travelers hit the road?
According to our data, of those who traveled in the past six months, 54% took a COVID-19 test—up 25% from October—and 26% used a vaccine passport app while on their trip (up 11%).
Despite a marked increase in those taking COVID-19 tests for travel, just 4% of travelers had to reschedule or change their plans due to a positive test result. And only 2% of travelers tested (or traveled with someone who tested) positive during a trip—consistent with our previous survey data.
As for those extra cautious travelers booking plan A and plan B? Just 5% of travelers said they planned a back-up trip in case their original plans were canceled. (So… that’s a no on the trip-stacking trend.)
What effect did the Omicron variant have on recent travel?
While 36% of travelers said their recent travel plans were not at all affected by the Omicron variant, 21% said they held off making plans due to Omicron.
Looking at those whose travel plans were disrupted by the recent variant:
- 19% said that they rescheduled their plans, changed their destination, or made changes to planned trip activities
- 16% said they were forced to cancel plans (due to travel restrictions, personal illness, or something else)
- 14% chose to cancel due to Omicron-related concerns
Of those who changed or canceled a trip due to Omicron, more than two-thirds (68%) did not lose any money. For the remainder of travelers who changed or canceled plans, most (12%) lost between $100-$500.
2022 travel forecast: Air travel readiness at pandemic-era high
Looking to the year ahead, we asked travelers about the types of trips they’re planning, how they plan to get there (and when), plus how comfortable they feel given the current state of the pandemic.
As for the types of trips being planned, 84% of people are planning a vacation, 74% plan to visit family and friends, and 43% plan to travel for business. These were the same top three reasons travelers told us back in October.
As for how and when people are planning to travel:
- 54% said they’re planning to fly within the U.S. by March; 73% by June
- 41% said they’re planning a road trip with their own car by March; 60% by June
- Just 16% said they’re planning to fly internationally by March; 33% by June
While this recent data does represent a dip in international travel readiness from six months ago, this is also the first time more travelers have said they’re planning to travel domestically by plane than car in more than a year.
Our data further reflects travelers’ positive attitudes towards flying. When we asked people how comfortable they felt going about their day-to-day lives, most people (73%) felt comfortable flying—certainly more than attending a wedding or going to the gym.
When asked what would make respondents feel comfortable flying, 31% said the mask mandate for public transportation being extended past March 18, 2022. Nearly a third (30%) also said airlines continuing or increasing safety measures such as mask mandates, COVID-19 tests, and so on, would make them feel comfortable.
What concerns do people have about traveling?
Though a majority of respondents said they’re comfortable traveling by plane—only 8% said they were very uncomfortable taking a flight—some do still have concerns about the next time they travel.
According to our data, 38% of travelers said they will be concerned they might need to cancel or change their trip at the last minute due to COVID-19 requirements, restrictions, or illness. This remains consistent with survey data we released in October.
Nearly a third (31%) said staying up to date on travel restrictions, rules, and requirements will concern them. This concern decreased slightly (down 4%) from October. And 30% of travelers said testing positive for COVID-19 and not being able to return home will be a concern.
Despite these concerns, our data tells us that what people anticipate going awry with their future travel plans doesn’t align with the reality of travel right now. Yes, disruptions and delays are an inevitable part of travel (pandemic or otherwise), but it’s encouraging that our data shows that most travelers are not experiencing widespread delays and cancellations; encountering unruly passengers; needing to reschedule or change their plans due to a positive COVID-19 test; nor losing money on changed or canceled travel plans.
As the pandemic evolves to an endemic phase, we expect to see traveler optimism (and bookings) continue to grow—and for concerns to continue to wane.
Methodology: TripIt surveyed nearly 1,300 U.S.-based users to understand their recent travel experiences, as well as their travel plans for the year ahead. The survey took place in February 2022.