A qualitative analysis of social and emotional perspectives of airline passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic

a group of people sitting on an airplane.



Fear of illness, economic damage, and stigma have had a devastating impact on the travel industry and have caused a significant reduction in both business and leisure travel. This study examines passengers’ social and emotional perspectives during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, building on a prior quantitative study that identified factors that predict a person’s willingness to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic.


This study used a qualitative method with a phenomenological perspective and hermeneutic design. Fifteen adults from the United States participated in a personal interview designed to capture demographics, individual safety measures, feelings, and concerns involving air travel during the pandemic. Personal interview transcripts were then inspected by the researchers using a constant comparison method.


The personal experiences of participants were dominated by projections of trust issues and emotional heuristics, protective behaviors, and fear of confrontations with others, and a fear of the unknown. These themes emerged even in participants who continued to fly during the pandemic.


Insights into travelers’ emotions, trust, and fears may help airlines and other segments of the travel industry to develop targeted messaging that supports the trust and safety issues confronted by frequent travelers.

Lamb, T. L., Ruskin, K. J., Rice, S., Khorassani, L., Winter, S. R., and Truong, D. (2021).

Journal of Air Transport Management, 102079. DOI: 0.1016/j.jairtraman.2021.102079