The interaction between airline passengers and self-service technology has reached a point of maturity where it is no longer about introducing interactive technology to the air travel journey. Instead, the task for airlines is now to refine the technology options being offered to passengers, tailoring services to specific passenger types.

In presenting its 11th annual Passenger IT Trends Survey, SITA has segmented airline passengers into four categories that it says dominate global air travel. While these categories are not definitive—29% of passengers are a mix of one or more of the categories and a passenger can be one kind of passenger on a business trip and another when vacationing—they do provide airlines with a broad profile of the types of passengers flying and, by extension, a means to more carefully targeted technology options. 

SITA senior manager-market insight Christelle Laverriere told ATW during a briefing on the survey’s findings that the profiles are a key to help airlines design self-service technology. Passengers are not all the same, she explained. “You need different approaches” for different passenger types who have “different expectations,” she said. 

Rather than seeking to develop one-size-fits-all technologies, airlines should focus on a multi-pronged approach that gives passengers choices depending on what type of passenger they are, according to SITA.

The 2016 SITA Passenger IT Trends Survey, co-sponsored by ATW, covered passengers in 19 countries that account for more than 70% of global air travelers. 

Careful and hyper-connected 

The largest group of passengers (34%) by a significant margin are the “careful planners,” who plan ahead to minimize the potential for any negative experiences in their journey, SITA said. These passengers appreciate the convenience of completing tasks and booking services prior to arriving at the airport, especially during the flight booking and check-in stages.

“Anxiety and apprehension about the travel experience tends to drive” these passengers, the SITA survey stated, noting these passengers often “double check every stage of preparation.”

SITA defines 14% of airline passengers as “hyper-connected.” For this second group of passengers, air travel is a necessity rather than a pleasure; these passengers like to maintain control. They are most likely to use off-airport self-service options, with 94% using either the web or a mobile app for booking and 49% for check-in.

The hyper-connected passengers “tend not to be passionate about travel and commonly experience mild annoyance and impatience,” SITA noted. These passengers “value efficiency very highly,” SITA said.

Pampered and open-minded 

The next group of passengers (also comprising 14%) are labeled by SITA as “pampered”—these air travelers can afford a higher standard of service and frequently avail themselves to airlines’ status-based offerings. These passengers like to use airport lounges, are members of airline loyalty programs, enjoy traveling and are generally relaxed about flying, SITA said. Pampered passengers “regularly experience a blend of mild annoyance with anticipation and joy,” according to SITA.

Some 9% of passengers fall into the fourth category of passengers: “open-minded adventurers.” These passengers are eager to try new things and are looking for memorable experiences. They tend to travel economy class, look for bargains and carry more check-in luggage. And they are the least likely to use off-airport technologies, leaving travel tasks—such as check-in—until they arrive at the airport. However, once they arrive at the airport, 49% used a kiosk to check-in, higher than any other group.

SITA described the open-minded adventurers as “happy and excited about their travel journey, although many also express underlying apprehension.”

SITA said pampered travelers are more inclined toward face-to-face interaction. More than 60% of pampered and adventurer passengers said they would switch to another technology following a negative experience, compared with just 29% of careful planners.

The pampered passenger, Laverriere said, “wants to be comfortable and travel in style.” The adventurers are interested in “traveling low-cost, want to explore and are willing to try new things at the airport.” These passengers are also big users of social media.

But all four passenger types had mainly positive emotions when using self-service technology options.

Own technology

“Passengers are showing a strong preference to use their own technology, where they have the option,” SITA said. “This gives them the freedom to complete tasks and prepare for travel at their own pace. Not surprisingly … the highest levels of satisfaction are attained in the early stages of the journey, such as flight booking and check-in where personal technology usage is most prevalent.”

The careful planner will usually try to anticipate potential disruptions in the air travel journey and plan ahead, Laverriere pointed out. These passengers are the most likely to print boarding passes at home, check-in at home and arrive early to the airport.

The hyper-connected passengers are “really looking at efficiencies,” Laverriere said. “They want to optimize their time. They use mobile technologies. They organize their journey with pre-planned movies to watch and newspapers and books to read on their own mobile devices. They want to be in control.”

The highest proportion of hyper-connected passengers in the world can be found in China, where 24% identify as such, according to SITA, which notes that Chinese airlines are taking notice: 80% have Wi-Fi connected aircraft and 100% are investing in mobile-based services.

Satisfied with technology

Which type of passenger is most satisfied? According to SITA, pampered passengers are “significantly more satisfied” than the other types. SITA added that “this may be due to the fact that this persona travels more frequently on average and thus has more experience, reducing stress and lifting their positive emotions.”

As has been the case in previous SITA Passenger IT surveys, passengers are broadly happy with using technology in the air travel journey—the time has long since passed when airlines were concerned that passengers would rebel over interacting with technology rather than people. “Even if a passenger is not satisfied with self-service technology, they tend to try an alternative one rather than revert to human contact,” the survey said.

Today, 92% of passengers are using technology to make their flight bookings (75% via a website, 16% using mobile apps and 1% using airport kiosks). Of the remaining 8% of passengers that do not currently use self-service technology, around a third (32%) said they intend to start using website booking, with a further 8% intending to switch to using a mobile app. In addition, there has been a “strong push toward off-airport check-in,” the survey said, with 43% of passengers using web or mobile check-in for their last flight, and 57% intending to use it for their next flight.

The survey said that, although web check-in was likely to remain the most popular choice, “usage of mobile apps is the fastest growing check-in channel,” with 21% of passengers planning to use one—up from 12% at present.

Needing improvement

According to SITA, the areas of the air travel journey with the least number of self-service technology options are the areas with which passengers report the least satisfaction: security screening, passport control and baggage collection. “These are points of the journey where technology currently plays a limited role and passengers have little control or choice,” the survey said.

SITA CEO Francesco Violante said airlines and airports should adopt more self-service technology in these processes: “Knowing that passengers prefer using their own devices and self-service technology throughout the journey should encourage airlines, airports and government to examine how they can transform the experience at security, border control and baggage collection.”

Satisfaction rises again when passengers move on to airport dwell time, boarding and the onboard experience, but takes a big hit during baggage collection on arrival.

To improve satisfaction regarding checked baggage, airlines are starting to offer more self-service and even off-airport options for bag tagging. Although airport kiosks are currently the most popular self-service technology for checking bags (17% of passengers surveyed used them for bag-tagging on their last flight), off-airport options, such as home printing and permanent bag-tags, “are starting to grow in popularity, albeit from a low base,” the survey said.

SITA acknowledged that the use of off-airport bag-tagging technology was “still at a very early stage,” with few airlines offering it and uptake accordingly low. “However, it removes another step of airport processing, which is good for the industry and offers passengers more choice,” SITA said.