When it comes to modern air travel, today’s customers demand up-to-the-minute information about their journeys. They want their gate information, bag tracking, security wait times, restaurant selections and the like, all at the touch of the finger. In other words, all delivered, in real time, to their personal mobile devices.
In fact, 73 percent of customers now want this kind of information available through their smartphones, according to International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) annual Global Passenger Survey (GPS). To come up with its conclusions, IATA surveyed 10,408 passengers from 145 countries.
According to the same survey, the percentage of customers who want these mobile notifications (SMS or push notifications) has increased by 10 percent in just the last two years. Presuming this trend continues as smartphone usage rises globally —airlines are presented with a unique opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with customers.
As evident from the GPS, Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice-President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security concludes, “The GPS tells us that passengers want a seamless and secure travel experience from booking to arrival.”
“Twenty years from now, mobile interactivity in our industry will be as ubiquitous as airport kiosks are today. If we start nurturing those systems now, then by the time these preference numbers double, the transition will be seamless and beneficial for airlines and customers alike.”
VP of Product Management and Marketing
Passengers want up-to-date flight information
Hands down, the most desired SMS capability is interactive flight status information; an overwhelming majority of those polled in the GPS—82 percent—confirmed.
Approximately 40 percent of the survey participants also want to know information about the time and distance to a gate; wait times at check-in, security, and border control and customs requirements.
As airports struggle to accommodate higher and higher volumes of customers, these kinds of notifications are becoming increasingly important helping passengers plan their travel to and from the airport with some degree of predictability.
With seemingly countless reasons why the modern air traveler would want such mobile interactive capabilities, Panasonic Avionics’ VP of Product Management and Marketing, Gaston Sandoval reflects, “A faster-paced business cycle requires connecting with your flights on-time and without delays. A more robust international security regimen makes it necessary to anticipate current conditions at customs checkpoints.”
A better check-in experience
For airline passengers, “interactive” doesn’t just mean having information at their fingertips; it’s also an opportunity to have greater personal control over the travel process itself. For instance, 84 percent of the survey participants want automated check-in, with over half of those preferring check-in via smartphone.
While not particularly new, the number of passengers wanting mobile boarding passes continues to increase, especially as online check-in proliferates the market.
Panasonic’s Sandoval continues to surmise, “Consumer technology often moves faster than consumer buying habits and airlines are being challenged by customers to come up with ways to offer their services on personal electronic devices. Customers also expect to be able to seamlessly multiscreen between their PEDs and seatback IFE systems.”
A more productive inflight experience
Furthermore, we know that passengers don’t just toss their digital devices into their carry bags after takeoff. More often than not, they will use them to turn inflight hours into productive hours. According to IATA, passengers want to use onboard Wi-Fi to:
- Search connecting flight-related information, such as gate numbers, 39 percent;
- Plan their onward journey, such as accommodations and transportation, 37 percent;
- Complete customs e-declarations or other forms, 33 percent.
Although passengers love inflight connectivity to get work done, they still prefer seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) screens to watch films and TV programs.
Joe Leader, CEO of the Airline Passenger Experience Association, isn’t too concerned about that trend. In 2018 Joe reflected, “For over a decade, the decline of embedded IFE has been incorrectly predicted. The answer for IFE is not one or the other; it’s both.”
Value-added services grow in popularity
For many airlines, turning the flight experience into an interactive consumer platform is still an evolving concept. Fortunately, guidance is provided by a significant proportion of early adopters who have expressed a desire to access additional services interactively, such as:
- Enhanced airport services, 38 percent;
- Destination-related information, 25 percent;
- Airline products and services that they can purchase during the trip, 19 percent.
“More carriers are investing in solutions that optimize transaction flows and booking experiences, support local and regional APMs, and ‘bridge the gap’ between cash and the mobile economy across the Americas,” Noel Connolly, SVP and Global Head of Sales for Airlines and Hospitality for CellPoint Mobile, has said.
Digital baggage tracking is a new must-have
Aside from missing a flight, perhaps the most frustrating glitch for customers is when their baggage goes missing. As such, 56 percent of GPS respondents consider real-time baggage tracking to be “a must.” Specifically, passengers report wanting:
- Bags tracked throughout their journey, 56 percent;
- Receive notifications about their baggage, 49 percent;
- Interactive access to baggage information and delivery wait times, 49 percent.
“The last thing a customer wants to do when their bag is delayed is to go in person to do something that can be done with a few taps on their phone, knowing that we’ll deliver their bag directly to them when it arrives,” explained Gil West, Chief Operating Officer at Delta Air Lines.
While there are differences between the generations, passengers aged 18–64 prefer using an electronic baggage tag to prepare baggage for check-in, while those over 65 want the support of an airline agent, the desire for mobile tracking appears to be generally on the rise.
“Twenty years from now, mobile interactivity in our industry will be as ubiquitous as airport kiosks are today,” says Sandoval. “If we start nurturing those systems now, then by the time these preference numbers double, the transition will be seamless and beneficial for airlines and customers alike.”