Air travel satisfaction is dropping despite airports’ and airlines’ numerous attempts to improve overall passenger experience

Satisfying air travellers has been bothering airlines and airports since forever. Indeed, being up in the air, in a low-pressured environment, hearing jet engines roaring unmercifully, after waiting a long time in a  queue to check-in, and lingering on the runway before departing, can be quite a terrifying experience, especially for people prone to anxiety.

Most businesses in the air travel industry are aware of this and have tried to invest in in-flight entertainment, such as VR moving maps, to make them less worried, or solutions to help them understand the passengers’ feelings better; some have tried to introduce biometrics solutions at security checkpoints to improve passenger flow, while making them feel more secure. Facial recognition tools for example are booming, and successful cases of them helping airport teams catch impostors have begun to emerge.

However, all these solutions do not seem to be enough as customer satisfaction continues to be an everyday battle . The Civil Aviation Authority’s  latest  consumer survey shows that while surveyed travellers latest trip scored high for overall satisfaction, with 83% of all passengers saying they were either satisfied (48%) or  very satisfied(35%) with their latest trip, this is actually down from last year. In 2017  90% of all passengers were satisfied or very satisfied with their trip.

Surveyed passengers aged 18-34 were the least likely to be satisfied when travelling by air.

The main dissatisfaction comes from the airport experience rather than the airline one. The majority of passengers believe that too much focus is put on security and not enough on convenience. Also, despite the increase in the number of low-cost carriers available, people still mention budget constraints and the cost of travel as the greatest impediment to flying.

Furthermore, a little more than half of respondents feel that the flying experience is about the same it has been over the last five years, despite numerous efforts from air travel companies to make it better.

This begs the question whether airlines’ and airports’ strategies to enhance the customer experience is right, and what they can do to make it better.

What do passengers want?

Unsurprisingly, people remain mostly dissatisfied with the slow and poor services, on the ground and in the air, with the quality and condition of facilities, waiting times, and flight delays.

This week’s Gatwick screen drama will definitely not help the statistics in that respect.

Just like with any other travel and tourism experience, air travelling is ultimately about the interaction between humans. Maybe air travel companies have put too much emphasis on investing in reducing the security issues — sometimes this is detrimental to convenience — or on entertainment, and have forgotten the basics.

Technology innovation is nice and definitely improves satisfaction, especially when it means increasing convenience and reducing waiting times,  however, people will always want to be treated with respect (the United Airlines incident when a passenger was forcibly dragged out of an airplane in 2017 is a counter-example), they want quality customer services, and they want to be helped quickly when required.

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Airlines and airports should focus on improving staff training, so that they value the customer more. They should also try to understand younger passengers better, as they are the hardest to please.

It is true that passengers hate to wait, so any solution to reduce queue times will be welcomed. It is also true that they like to be entertained, so innovative solutions to help them pass the time while travelling will always be important. But if customers are treated rudely, these efforts do not matter anymore.

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