What Air Travel Will Look Like in 2021 and Beyond

According to experts, expect higher ticket prices, mandatory contact tracing and an increase in domestic travel

masks on airplanes
Higher ticket prices and enhanced safety measures are some travel trends that are here to stay.
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

COVID-19 hit the airline industry hard in 2020: An 81% drop in revenue and $519 billion in losses, to start. Plus, airline layoffs, new safety procedures for passengers — which includes fights with unruly passengers — and countries that essentially quarantined themselves from the rest of the world.

Does it get better? And what lessons of 2020 are here to stay? USA Today asked several experts about their thoughts on travel starting next year, when we’ll still be in the midst of a pandemic.

Some takeaways, good and bad:

  • Expect contactless payments, paperless booking, self check-in kiosks and other safety measures to stick around.
  • Visiting another country will require mandatory travel insurance.
  • Contact tracing is here to stay, even if there are privacy concerns.
  • Passengers will plan out their trips far more in advance — and pay more while doing so (rates are up 18% for international trips and 27% for domestic trips this year).
  • Business travel will no longer be considered essential, thanks to virtual meetings. And since those travelers tend to “subsidize” the rest of the plane, your economy tickets will go up in price.
  • Boutique hotels and Airbnbs will continue to gain traction over large hotels.

And finally, we’ll be staying nearby, even during our vacations. “Travelers who previously would never consider taking a domestic vacation are enjoying exploring destinations close to home,” Kristiana Choquet, a travel agent with EMBARK Beyond, told USA Today. “People are discovering the beauty and wonders of their own countries.”


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