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The world is finding its wings again as 60% of airline passengers are happy to fly by end of the year, but barriers remain

September 16, 2021 Aviation No Comments

Inmarsat commissions world’s largest airline passenger survey since pandemic, revealing that demand for flights is returning, but rebuilding passenger confidence requires consistent global safety protocols and digital technology that minimise touchpoints.

Insights from more than 10,000 passengers highlight that airline reputation is increasingly important and a deciding factor for 50% of passengers when choosing an airline.

Quarantine is now a bigger worry for passengers than catching the virus at the airport or onboard the plane and 84% of passengers think COVID vaccine passports are a good idea.

Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, today unveiled the findings of its Passenger Confidence Tracker 2021, the largest and most comprehensive global survey of airline passengers since the pandemic began. The results show that confidence in air travel is rising, with 60% of passengers feeling happy to fly by the end of the year, compared to only 47% last year.

Airlines will also be reassured that the number of passengers who expect to travel less frequently has dropped by 6% in comparison to Inmarsat’s 2020 Passenger Confidence Tracker*. However, with 84% of respondents believing their travel habits are likely to change post pandemic, the onus is firmly on airlines to ensure their service offering keeps pace with the evolving requirements of passengers.

Passenger confidence levels on the rise

With more than 10,000 passengers surveyed worldwide, 60% stated they would happily take to the skies by the end of the year. Greeks were the most confident about flying today (29%), followed by Australians and Brazilians (both 20%). Interestingly, actually taking a flight improves the confidence of passengers towards health and safety issues by 20%, showing that the experience of flying is very reassuring.

When it comes to COVID concerns, one in three people (37%) felt less confident taking a bus or coach compared to a flight. This was highest for passengers in Brazil (70%), India (48%) and UAE (42%). Globally, 40% of passengers felt the metro or underground was riskier than flying.

Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation, said: “There is no denying that the past 18 months has been a turbulent time for airlines and passengers alike. However, the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) figures show that demand for both international and domestic travel is gaining significant momentum. In order to maintain and even accelerate this growth, it’s essential to rebuild passenger confidence and ensure their evolving needs are met in a post COVID world.

“Our latest Passenger Confidence Tracker, the largest global survey that Inmarsat Aviation has ever commissioned, offers detailed insights into the main areas of confidence and concern around air travel, direct from the passengers themselves. Such findings will allow airlines to increase their focus on key priorities and seize the exciting opportunities ahead as the industry continues its long-term recovery.”

Barriers still remain, but customer experience boosts confidence

Certain barriers to flying are still evident and primarily centre around the inconvenience and unpredictability of travel. The top three barriers globally were quarantining (51%), unpredictable border closures (41%) and confusing safety protocols (36%).

Following the pandemic, the passenger service experience was regarded as the most important factor when it comes to the enjoyment of a flight globally (46%), with the highest responses coming from India (67%), Brazil (67%), Indonesia (59%) and China (57%).

When it comes to health and safety, 84% of passengers believe that implementing COVID vaccine passports is a good idea, with 50% stating COVID passports should be implemented now and 34% stating it should only be implemented when everyone’s been offered the vaccine. The remaining 16% either did not think COVID vaccine passports are fair on those who are against being vaccinated, had concerns around the use of personal data, or did not have an opinion on the matter.

The survey also indicates that greater importance should be placed on customer experience, because interacting with airline personnel was seen to help instil the most confidence for passengers during a flight. This made passengers the most confident in Mexico (55%), the US (51%), UAE (50%), Brazil (49%), Greece (42%), Canada (41%), Australia (39%) and the UK (36%).

Passengers demand greater predictability and consistency

The survey reveals that the unpredictability of flying and the seemingly large variation in rules and regulations is hampering confidence towards air travel the most. As referenced, the potential of quarantine is the greatest worry for people (51%), more so than catching the virus at the airport or on the plane (43%). And 62% would like all airlines to follow the same hygiene practices, which comes out as the most important factor for Australians (63%). A consistent set of safety standards was the most important factor for nations in Asia Pacific too, namely Indonesia, Japan and Singapore.

Technology helps to improve confidence

Digital technology improves pre-flight confidence in a number of ways, such as providing up-to-date information and updates to help reassure passengers before a journey. Digital health passports were also found to be a pre-flight confidence booster in this year’s survey, with their importance rising to 47% compared to 37% in 2020. Greece is the only country that has concerns about digital health passports (36%) both in terms of personal data and fairness and 12% of passengers in the UAE, Japan, Canada and Germany felt they were unfair. Other important digital pre-flight activities include destination status alerts (39%), facial recognition security (33%) and real time luggage tracking (31%).

While onboard, digital technology helps to improve confidence by keeping passengers connected and minimising their contact with others, including cabin crew and fellow passengers. In addition, 41% of respondents believed inflight Wi-Fi had increased in importance after the pandemic, compared to 30% for inflight entertainment. Inflight WIFI was the most important factor for the US (55%) and Canada (41%).

“A digital transformation was already underway in the aviation industry, but the pandemic has undoubtedly fast-tracked its implementation,” added Balaam. “As the trusted connectivity provider for airlines throughout the world, Inmarsat has experienced higher passenger usage for our inflight broadband solutions compared to pre-COVID levels, showing the desire to stay connected has only amplified. Airlines are also embracing innovating new ways to enhance their onboard experience using connectivity, with a major focus on touchless experiences in keeping with today’s passenger expectations.”

Airline reputation and trust is paramount

Globally, satisfaction with airlines’ responses to the pandemic has grown to 72%, a 12% increase from last year. This is an important result for the industry, as the reputation of airlines is the key to boosting confidence levels for 50% of passengers. In addition, more passengers said they will only travel with ‘trusted’ airlines, which was most pronounced in the Americas with an 8% uplift from 2020 to 32%. The research also reveals generational differences, as 28% of younger passengers (18-44yrs) said they were more likely to fly only with ‘trusted airlines’ compared to 20% of older passengers (45-65yrs).

A more discerning passenger

The study also reveals that factors such as region and age influence the individual preferences of passengers. In the Americas, passengers report that inflight Wi-Fi, the passenger service experience and inflight entertainment are more important now than before the pandemic. In comparison, passengers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) consider free baggage and extra legroom as more important. Younger passengers aged 18-44, the group more concerned with catching COVID according to the study, are more discerning when they select a carrier than older passengers, placing far more importance on loyalty programmes, sustainability, airport locations and ticket prices.

For further insights from Inmarsat’s 2021 Passenger Confidence Tracker, download the full report here.

Inmarsat is transforming global aviation by bringing complete connectivity to aircraft and flight paths across the world. Its market-leading technology allows passengers to browse the internet, stream videos, check social media and more during flights, with onboard connectivity on par with broadband services available on the ground. In addition, Inmarsat’s flight deck solutions combine cutting-edge satellite technology with secure IP broadband connectivity for enhanced operational efficiency and safety.

Inmarsat recently unveiled plans for ORCHESTRA, the communications network of the future, which will bring existing geosynchronous (GEO) satellites together with low earth orbit satellites (LEO) and terrestrial 5G to form an integrated, high-performance solution, unmatched by any existing or planned competitor offering. ORCHESTRA allows capacity to be boosted in high-density areas such as at airports, eliminating congested network ‘hot spots’ and ensuring the connectivity needs of aviation customers continue to be met well into the future, with capacity scaled directly to match their requirements.

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