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The Emotional Journey: SITA Reports How Passengers Feel When They Fly

Aviation technology leader SITA has published its Passenger Insights Report 2023, showing the results of a comprehensive passenger survey conducted at the beginning of the year. These insights suggest key focus areas for passenger experience investment for airlines and airports. 

In this article series, we dive into the results of SITA’s comprehensive passenger survey and explore the key trends shaping the future of air travel. This second article in the series looks into passenger sentiment throughout the journey. What elements of air travel make passengers most anxious?

David Lavorel, CEO, SITA said of the report’s findings: 

“One of the good news stories of 2023 is that travel is back. Passenger numbers globally are close to 2019 levels and growing strongly. This year may well be a record year for travel in many parts of the world, while strong airfares have enabled airlines globally to get their balance sheets back into the black. 

“SITA’s 2023 Passenger IT Insights reflects this optimism, with travelers highlighting in this year’s report that they plan to travel more often than before.

“As the industry looks to ramp up spending on technology, they can rest assured that passengers will welcome automated, self-service options in the airport. It will also help airlines and airports grow without sacrificing the passenger experience.”

Overall, Passengers Have a Positive Outlook on Air Travel

Emotional extremes along the journey. SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023
Source: SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023

Perhaps surprisingly, more than 80% of passengers report being satisfied with their journey at most stages, which is overwhelmingly positive. Nevertheless, there has been a slight drop in this positive feedback since 2022. An additional 4-6% of passengers have reported negative emotions during crucial stages such as check-in, bag drop and collection, security, and border control

This uptick in negative sentiment can be traced back to the turbulence the air transport industry has weathered over the last year. This is mainly due to the resurgence in travel and the strain on resources and staff. 

However, positive passenger feedback hasn’t decreased from security clearance to landing during the segment. Only 1 in 10 passengers report negative experiences during the journey’s dwell time, boarding, and onboard stages. While countless factors could explain the sentiment, it is notable that these stages have seen a higher penetration of mobile technology. That could have contributed to the positive passenger experience. 

Passenger Priorities in Future Travel 

Passengers' Main Barriers to Flying in the Future. SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023
Source: SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023

When considering future travel plans, passengers are mainly driven by costs. A significant 51% cite ticket prices as the main deterrent to booking, outpacing most other barriers by a two-fold margin or more. High inflation and economic pressures in numerous countries will likely intensify this trend. 

“Health and safety continue to be paramount to passengers, with over a third expressing health risks as a primary impediment to air travel.”

Even though this drops from the 43% reported in 2022, health and safety still wield substantial influence over travel decisions. Moreover, 25% of passengers still see confusion about health documentation as a potential hurdle to air travel

Impact of Eased Global Travel Restrictions 

Following the global relaxation of travel restrictions, health risks and confusion over health documents required for flying remain the second and third most prominent barriers for passengers contemplating future travel. Similar frustrations were experienced during travel when restrictions were much tighter.

Geopolitical Risks and Travel Decisions 

A notable shift in 2023 is the diminished anxiety over geopolitical risk. As the conflict in Ukraine continues, there is less concern over its global implications, reducing the number of travelers who refrain from traveling because of it.

Passengers Increasingly Embrace Biometrics Throughout the Journey

Passenger Comfort Levels with Biometric Identification. SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023.
Source: SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023

In the realm of passenger comfort with biometric checks, the highest average comfort levels are manifested in the domains of boarding (7.59), security (7.57), and identity verification (7.42). These domains remain consistent with the 2022 results, indicating a maintained comfort level.

Furthermore, an upward trajectory in comfort levels has been reported across the spectrum, with the average score escalating from 7.26 to 7.36. This subtle but positive shift insinuates that passengers are gradually becoming more receptive to biometrics as a verification method.

However, check-in, lounge access, and baggage drop ranked lowest on the comfort scale. This could be attributed to the fact that passengers are less inclined to anticipate identity verification at these stages than boarding, security, or passport control.

Insights into Passenger Concerns While Reserving Travel in 2023

Unsurprisingly, flight delays and cancellations are prominently the principal factors that sway passengers’ decisions about future travel during the booking process. A significant one-third of passengers vocalize their apprehensions about potential delays and cancellations.

Approximately 18% of passengers report anxiety over pricing during the booking process. Business travelers are less likely to express this concern. It is more pronounced among those booking economy class travel. A similar percentage of passengers are anxious over extended waiting times and airport congestion. Only a few passengers, around 9%, say none of these factors trigger any anxiety during their flight booking experience.

Exploring Passenger Sentiments and Travel Disruptions in 2023

Passenger Emotions and Travel Disruption. SITA Passenger Insights Report 2023.

There are two key reasons why passengers are apprehensive about delays and cancellations. First, 56% of passengers consistently face these disruptions. Secondly, 42% of survey participants said it significantly impaired their travel experience. These results show the severity of the problem and its detrimental effects on passengers.  

Meanwhile, approximately 50% of passengers struggle with long queues and congestion. On the other hand, only 19% of passengers consider these issues the most detrimental to their travel experience. Although passengers often encounter long lines and overcrowding, their overall journey is comparatively less affected. 

Furthermore, 32% of passengers are affected by pricing complications. Approximately 27% of passengers are concerned about mishandled luggage, and 23% are concerned about limited route options.  

By recognizing the frequency and impact of these concerns, the industry can target efforts to increase passenger satisfaction.

Passenger Insights on Enhancing the Passenger Booking Experience

Passenger views on improving the booking process. SITA Passenger Insights Report Infographic.
Source: SITA 2023 Passenger Insights Report

SITA’s 2023 Passenger Insights Report indicates that passengers frequently suggest better flight options as a significant potential enhancement in the booking experience. This factor was highlighted by 19% of the respondents. There are, however, a similar number of passengers who identify other areas for improvement, demonstrating the diversity of expectations among modern travelers.

One particular factor comes to the forefront when the focus shifts from flight options to functionality enhancements. Travel experiences could be enhanced dramatically by this factor. 

A substantial 18% of passengers have expressed interest in automated checks before arriving at the airport to confirm travel documents. Adopting such a feature could save passengers valuable time at the airport and dissipate any anxiety associated with flight day, making the pre-flight process easier.

Other areas that have caught passenger attention include expediting boarding processes, a factor chosen by 15% of respondents. Also, 13% of passengers suggested increasing automation at the airport. Travelers place high value on efficiency and timeliness throughout their journey. By integrating automated checks, refining boarding procedures, and increasing airport automation, businesses can satisfy customer demands for enhanced speed and efficiency. This could significantly improve the overall travel experience, contributing to customer satisfaction and loyalty.

1 thought on “The Emotional Journey: SITA Reports How Passengers Feel When They Fly”

  1. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the touch points outside airline control are the most negative / least positive emotional experiences. Air travel, in my opinion, is a cotton-bud. It should be comfortable at either end … and no-one really cares about the bit in the middle i.e. airlines are chosen for a multitude of reasons and not comfort alone. Alas, air travel isn’t a cooton-bud. In todays world, air travel is like using a toothpick as a cotton-bud: painful at both ends.

    Most alarming though is we are not really seeing much to improve the passenger airport journey experience(s). If anything, they are getting more and more obstructive and stressful. Perhaps, the airlines need to be given a bigger role in the airport journey i.e. they appear to be more adept at experience than airports so why not give them more control of their passengers from kerbside-to-kerbside. Of course, getting TSA, CBP and other immigration serivces to play ball is still going to be a challenge.

    This report supports IATA prediction that inter-modal travel and services like forward-shipping of baggage are becomng more and more desirable.

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