The news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19 is the long awaited update we have been seeking that offers an escape from the challenges of the past nine months. It is the first steps in a journey of true recovery from the unprecedented events of 2020, albeit it will still be months before we see an impact and years before we emerge back into pre-COVID reality.
That reality will still bare the scars of a challenging year and will look different from the world before the pandemic, changing traveller attitudes and behaviours. A new survey from Inmarsat, an inflight connectivity provider, suggests that increased digitalisation will be critical to rebuilding passenger confidence during this recovery phase.
Its ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’, a survey that reflects the views and attitudes of flyers from across the globe, suggests digital technology – particularly connected technologies – will be important empowering and reassuring passengers that air travel is safe. Conducted in Oct-2020, market research company Yonder spoke to 9,500 travellers across 12 countries worldwide on its behalf to absorb and recognise levels of passenger confidence at different stages of their journey and their thoughts on the industry’s response to the pandemic.
It is no surprise that COVID-19 was found to have changed almost everything and indelibly changing the dynamics of travel, and especially the aviation industry. In the long-term over eight in ten passengers (83%) surveyed claimed their travel habits will change – even once the pandemic has subsided. And when it comes specifically to flying, nearly a third (31%) said they would fly less.
However, while 80% of respondents described their behaviour in relation to avoiding COVID-19 as cautious (48% said they’re ‘highly cautious’, with the remaining 32% saying they are ‘fairly cautious), nearly two-thirds (65%) of passengers expect to fly again in the next year. Indeed, 47% said they intend to fly again in the next six months.
Interestingly, while there are significant variations in how much risk passengers estimate different activities to have compared with taking a flight, most of them feel flying is safer – only a family party, visiting a shopping mall and staying in a hotel or rental accommodation was seen as safer. Over a third deemed flying is safer than a sporting event, public transport and public toilets, while over a quarter see it safe than school, gym ore leisure centre, conference event, cinema or a restaurant or bar.
When it comes to flying, the potential inconvenience of quarantining (60%), border closures (48%), non-uniform safety protocols (39%) and flight cancellations (39%) where among the biggest worries for travellers, alongside fear of catching the virus at the airport or on an aeroplane (55%) or while abroad (61%).
The survey also found clear differences in passenger confidence through the travel journey, although positively, it found that the traditional aspects of the passenger journey – going through security, boarding or communicating with cabin crew for example – scored generally higher for confidence levels. Anxiety becomes a factor when other passengers come into the mix, notes the report, with visiting the toilet inflight or just being around other flyers delivering the lowest confidence scores.
The results also show that not everyone has experienced COVID-19 in the same way and there are clear regional differences when it comes to behaviour and beliefs. For example, passengers in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region were found to be more satisfied with airlines’ response to COVID-19 than those in Europe. However, travel anxiety is higher among Asian passengers, with 58% of respondents in India and 55% in South Korea planning to travel less in the future.
The findings also show the impact of the pandemic doesn’t always correlate with levels of caution. For example, in Finland, only 10% are highly cautious, yet 83% haven’t taken a flight since the pandemic hit their country. Conversely, India displays pronounced levels of caution – 75% admit to being highly cautious – yet 56% have taken a flight.
A key insight from the responses centres on the role technology has to play in enhancing confidence at every stage of the passenger journey. With safety foremost in passengers’ minds, a high proportion say that digital technology is reassuring, according to the study. The tech that increases passenger confidence seems to fall into two camps, it says: “that which empowers them by providing information and that which minimises passenger contact with airline crew or other passengers”.
As such, 79% of all passengers say their confidence would be increased while in the air if they were provided with destination status alerts, real time information and news about the place they were flying to. And 83% want more contactless payments inflight. A similar figure want staggered queues for airport security. A further 78% want to clear immigration before landing and 43% want real-time luggage tracking.
Aviation’s digital transformation was, of course, already in motion before COVID-19. But just as the world has come to increasingly rely on more digitalisation over the course of 2020, the survey results suggests that passengers want a faster adoption of the technologies that were only previously in the early stages of maturity.
Of those surveyed, 40% said inflight Wi-Fi is now more important to their enjoyment of the flying experience. That is almost 50% higher than those who say inflight entertainment has now become more important (27%). Inflight broadband is also important when it comes to choosing who to fly with – 37% say availability of inflight Wi-Fi is crucial now, compared to 35% who say airport location has increased in importance in their airline choice.
How airlines have adapted during the pandemic is now a clear consideration for consumers, according to the responses. Almost half of the passengers surveyed (44%) said that reputation is now a more significant factor when choosing an airline than it was pre-pandemic. Factors affecting how passengers choose what airline to fly with are also changing. Those carriers that guarantee cabin cleanliness (68% say this is more important now) will benefit from these changing attitudes. Other critical factors include ticket price (47% believe this is more important than before) and airline sustainability (42%).
The survey also breaks findings down to a granular level and that identifies some additional patterns. Women were found to be less confident throughout the travel journey and older passengers – those over 65 – were found to be three times (24%) more likely to wait until there’s a vaccine before flying again than those aged 25-34 (8%). It is no surprise that frequent flyers (those of all ages and nationalities who took more than five flights in 2019) were found to be the most confident at each stage of the passenger journey.
You can view an infographic on some of the key survey findings here: Inmarsat Aviation Passenger Confidence Tracker