Passengers want more control over the travel experience and are happy to adopt technology, but they don’t want to be left waiting

Travellers want more personal control over their journey via their smart phone, want to use biometric identification to speed up travel processes, be able to track their baggage, have access to Wi-Fi on board at 34,000ft and do not want to wait more than ten minutes for baggage collection, immigration or customs.

These were the key findings of the 2019 Global Passenger Survey from International Air Transport Association (IATA) which acts as the voice of the passenger, providing annual insights into the preferences and behaviours of air travellers around the world. These are used by IATA to help guide industry initiatives and this year focused on processes and technology in the travel experience.

It clearly illustrated that more than ever passengers now want to use their personal device to control more aspects of their travel journey all the way from the initial booking to arrival at their destination, but habits and trends to still vary across the world.

Interestingly, an airline app was found to be the preferred method of booking for passengers from one of the world’s largest aviation markets, with just under a quarter (24%) of travellers from North Asia preferring this method. It was also the second most popular choice among passengers in the Middle East, favoured by 14% of travellers. Booking through an airline website, although less popular than in 2018, still remains the method of choice for most travellers globally with more than a third (39%) still using this platform globally.

Continuing the technological advancements, using a smartphone was also identified by more than half of passengers (51%) as their preferred method of check-in. This was a +4% increase over levels recorded in 2018. Meanwhile, almost three quarters (72%) of travellers also wanted to be kept informed throughout their journey via travel notifications sent to their personal device.

SMS remains the preferred notification option for 39% of passengers, but this trend has been decreasing since 2016. Conversely, preference for receiving information via a smartphone app has increased by +10% since 2016 and is now the method of choice for one third of passengers.

The survey found that 83% of passengers want to receive information on the status of their flight and 45% would like information on their baggage. Passengers also asking for information to help them plan their passage through the airport with 45% wanting to know wait times at security and border control and 37% wanting to know wait times at customs.

There is also a more positive feeling around the adoption of biometrics. The survey found that 70% of passengers are willing to share additional personal information including their biometric identifiers to speed up processes at the airport. This increases in correlation with the number of flights taken per year. The highest support for this (76%) is among fliers who travel for business, more than 10 times per year.

In addition, just under half (46%) of passengers would prefer to use biometric identification instead of a paper passport for their journey and around a third (30%) would opt to use a biometric token to board the plane.

Baggage reclamation remains an issue in the eye of travellers and there is high demand for baggage tracking, according to the survey findings. Over half of passengers (53%) said that they would be more likely to check their bag if they were able to track it throughout the journey. And 46% said that they want to be able to track their bag and have it delivered directly to an off-airport location, if that service were available.

Airlines and airports are working together to improve baggage information reliability by tracking baggage at major touch points such as loading and unloading (the implementation of IATA Resolution 753). And the 75th IATA AGM unanimously resolved to support the global deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for baggage tracking. RFID read rates are 99.98% accurate which is significantly better than that of bar codes.

The survey also indicated that 80% of passengers want to wait no longer than three minutes to drop off a bag. This increased to ten minutes for queuing at immigration/customs for 79% of travellers. And only 2% would accept a waiting time longer than 20 minutes. Almost three quarters of passengers (74%) also want to wait no longer than ten minutes for baggage delivery. And almost none wants to wait longer than 20 minutes.

The results also indicate that for nearly three quarters (74%) of passengers, speed was the main benefit of using automated immigration gates/kiosks. A similar number (72%) gave the overall experience of automated immigration processing a thumbs up.

More than half passengers were found to want onboard Wi-Fi. Some 53% of surveyed passengers found Wi-Fi important to have. The importance is the highest in Africa (71%), Latin America (68%) and the Middle East (67%) and the lowest in Europe (44%) and North America (49%). With availability of Wi-Fi connectivity continuing to have a direct impact on the overall travel experience, adopting the latest onboard Wi-Fi technology will continue to be an effective way for airlines to distinguish their product offering.

It is no real surprise that passengers once again identified airport security screening process and border control as two of their biggest pain points when travelling. Having to remove personal items was identified as a pain point by the most travellers (60%), closely followed by the removal of laptops and large electronic devices (48%) and variations in screening processes at different airports (41%).

To improve the boarding experience, the top three suggestions from passengers were more efficient queuing at the boarding gate (60%), not needing to get a bus to the aircraft (51%), and more bin space for cabin luggage (46%). To improve the connection experience, the top three desires from travellers were not having to go through security at the transfer airport (60%), not having to pick up and reclaim their bag at the transfer airport (59%) and not having to pass immigration at the transfer airport (55%).

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