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In recent months, more and more Americans have been packing their bags and heading to the airport. As travel continues to approach pre-pandemic levels, we’re sharing more insight into the narratives emerging across digital and social media about air travel in 2021. This insight comes from a new report that uses Zignal narrative intelligence to help answer an important question: How is the public reacting as businesses get back to normal?

It’s a question that has major implications not just for airlines, but for all businesses striving to strike the right balance in their approach to reopening. Understanding the narratives playing out online can empower these businesses to determine whether they’re succeeding in these efforts or need to make adjustments – as well as help them identify any threats that may be emerging in the conversational landscape.

Get the full report here.

Using Zignal narrative intelligence, we looked at the narratives forming around air travel between January 1 and March 22 of this year. As we conducted our analysis, two related trends emerged:

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1. The Darker the Story, the Stronger the Response

Negative stories got more attention than positive ones. The most frequently-shared articles often fell into one of two camps. One type of story criticized air travel broadly, such as an LA Times report about ill passengers being allowed to board planes or CTV News coverage of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s travel warnings. The second type of story criticized specific individuals who reportedly defied mask requirements or government-issued travel guidelines, including Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry and Canadian celebrities Rodney and Ekaterina Baker.

Understanding the narratives playing out online can empower these businesses to determine whether they’re succeeding in these efforts or need to make adjustments – as well as help them identify any threats that may be emerging in the conversational landscape.”

Moreover, stories that instilled fears around air travel during COVID-19 attracted more shares than stories regarding airline safety measures. For example, other frequently-redistributed stories included a study linking last summer’s COVID outbreak in Ireland to air travel, and an LA Times piece reporting that  pilots felt “rusty” after flying less during the pandemic. Stories emphasizing the precautions that airlines were taking (see this BBC story for some examples) received fewer shares.

Attitudes about air travel safety

Mentions of “flying is not safe” dropped while mentions of “flying is safe” rose, Jan. 1 – March 22, 2021.

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2. However, the Tone of the Conversation Is Shifting

While stories emphasizing the dangers of air travel get the most attention, they do not actually make up the bulk of the conversation. Between January 1 and March 22, coverage emphasizing the risks of flying attracted 4.2K mentions, 83% of which came from mainstream news outlets. However, blanket opposition to flying appears to be diminishing. Statements expressing disapproval of air travel (e.g.“flying is dangerous” and related phrases) dropped 93% between January and March.

Read our recent blog post for more insights into air travel in 2021.

In contrast, the volume of stories expressing optimism around the future of flying  (e.g. “flying is safe”) rose 70% during this same time period. Safety measures on flights are a major topic of conversation, attracting 363K mentions since January. About half of this coverage came from mainstream media outlets, while one third came from Twitter.

Download the full report to:

  • Dive deeper into these issues
  • Learn which voices are primarily driving these narratives
  • See how brand-specific mentions play a role in the conversation.