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Passenger Confidence Tracker 2021

Aviation

The biggest airline passenger survey conducted in the wake of COVID-19 has provided the aviation industry cause for optimism, as well as highlighting where the opportunities lie for a profitable and sustainable recovery.

The summer travel season may be wrapping up, but hopes that passengers would return to the skies on mass were dampened for the second consecutive year, largely due to uncertainty around travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. However, airlines have been offered hope by the largest global study into passenger opinion and behaviour since the pandemic began, which found that confidence around air travel is returning.

According to the Passenger Confidence Tracker 2021, commissioned by Inmarsat and completed by more than 10,000 respondents worldwide, 60% of passengers would be happy to fly again by the end of the year, compared to only 47% last year. This is a clear indication that while aviation isn’t out of the woods yet, there are enough reasons to feel optimistic about the future, as Inmarsat Aviation’s President Philip Balaam notes.

“There is no denying that the past 18 months has been a turbulent time for airlines and passengers alike,” he says. “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.”

To download the full survey results, please click below.

Passenger experience critical to allaying fears

Unsurprisingly, flyers are highlighting that the passenger experience offered by airlines is a key driver to support their returning confidence. Respondents ranked this as the most important factor when it comes to the enjoyment of a flight globally (46%). Those surveyed said interacting with airline personnel also helped instil confidence.

Aviation’s ongoing digital transformation remains a catalyst for passenger confidence too. Travel factors such as pre-flight COVID testing (56%), digital health passports (47%), thermal scanning (42%), destination status alerts (39%), staggered boarding (39%) and staggered security queues (36%), which are propelled by digital technology, all improve passenger confidence – and experience. This suggests that airlines that don’t embrace digitalisation may lose out when passengers increasingly return.

Balaam suggests as much, arguing: “The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated digital transformation, opening passengers’ eyes to the new ways they can stay connected and informed. Inflight connectivity holds the key to enhance the onboard experience and improve confidence in the future. We have experienced first-hand how passenger usage of our inflight connectivity solutions has increased compared to pre-COVID levels.”

Trusted airlines set to win out

The importance of an airline’s reputation has also grown when it comes to passengers choosing which carrier to fly with. 50% of respondents stated that an airline’s reputation was key and the good news is that passenger satisfaction around how airlines have responded to the pandemic has increased by 12% - now sitting at 72%.

Many passengers state they will only fly with ‘trusted’ airlines in the future – in the Americas, 32% said this was important, up 8% from last year. The younger generation of flyers (aged between 18 and 44) were also swayed by an airline’s reputation, with 28% saying they were only likely to fly with ‘trusted’ airlines, compared to the 26% global benchmark.

A raft of insights for the industry to exploit

Elsewhere, there’s a clear trend towards airlines that offer a quality service – again a vital component of the passenger experience. In the Americas, passengers highlight inflight Wi-Fi, the passenger experience and inflight entertainment as being more important now than pre-COVID.

In comparison, passengers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) consider free baggage and extra leg room as more important. Inflight Wi-Fi is the most important factor for the US (55%) and Canada (41%), which is also the global average.

The Passenger Confidence Tracker also demonstrates widespread support for COVID passports, with 84% of passengers stating that implementing them is a good idea. Digital health passports also cause an uptick in passenger confidence.

Summing up, Balaam believes the findings of the latest Passenger Confidence Tracker – the largest global survey Inmarsat Aviation has ever commissioned – offers airlines detailed insights surrounding the vital area of passenger confidence and how the industry can allay these very real fears. “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,” he concludes.

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Have a look back at the results from our 2020 Confidence Tracker