Travelers have growing expectations from airports, says the latest FlightView Connected Airport survey.
The US-focused survey, available for download here, focuses on the connectivity needs of a growing passenger base. Most recently, IATA reported a 5.3% growth in demand up to September 2014 - a trend that shows no signs of abating, especially as gas prices drop and consumers have more padding in their wallets.
Traveler expectations have expanded into services traditionally delivered by airlines, such as real-time updates and gate information, and indicate that travelers are beginning to see airports as mini-cities with their own structural services similar to a government.
This makes sense, especially as the product offering at airports have expanded to create a more holistic, approachable and enjoyable experience. Airports are now investing heavily in the product, as well as spending money marketing themselves as destinations in a competition for top-of-mind with travelers booking tickets.
The IT spend of airports is expanding to increase investment alongside the bump in traffic, hitting a massive $134 billion this year according to SITA. FlightView surveyed over 2,000 passengers, 37% business and 63% leisure, to determine what specific expectations travelers have, and where airports should be investing the most money.
Mobile device tracking
The survey found that passengers want day-of-travel information from airports that heretofore was seen as part of an airline's responsibility.
Quoted from the report:
- 84 percent expect airports to keep them updated on their flight’s status
- 79 percent want updates on security wait times
- 48 percent would value updates on traffic delays
- 38 percent want to be kept updated on the weather at their destination city
- 24 percent want updates on parking capacity
- 16 percent would value being sent information on available airport amenities, like lounges,
shopping, travel services and more
Airports can actually leverage these expectations to siphon passengers away from airline-branded apps to the airport's digital ecosystem, allowing for a deeper, more profitable engagement.
One of the ways to do that is with active mobile tracking. Passengers want up-to-date information, and iBeacons interspersed throughout terminals allow airports to deliver this granular information. Nearly half of the top 50 airports worldwide are already planning iBeacon/mobile trials in the next three years, showing a healthy appetite to experiment with improving the airport experience through technology.
Mobile tracking also allows airports to offer opt-in extended engagements, where the airport can track movements and offer incentives according to preferences - this is a chance to expand on those 16% that want extended airport information on mobile.
Surprisingly, over 50% of respondents were willing to allow anonymous tracking of mobile phones in order to analyze passenger flow and improve the overall efficiency at the airport. These sorts of improvements can lead to a direct boost of the airport's bottom line: SITA found a 35% drop in retail spend for each additional 10 minutes wait time for security.
JD Power's North American Airport Satisfaction Survey found that, on average, highly satisfied passengers spend up to 45% more in retail shops. So the return on investment in the airport experience can be very healthy, as long as the airport is investing in the correct services.
One of the easiest ways to improve the passenger experience is to offer well-designed self-service technology that decreases wait times, increases throughput and empowers passengers with a feeling of control.
When asked which technologies are the most important, PreCheck and automatic check-in came out on top. While these services are now offered by the majority of airlines at the majority of US airports, several of the other technologies are still emerging.
Automated border control technology enjoyed expanded reach this year, and should soon be available at the majority of international entry points to the United States.
Self-boarding at the gate is being tested by several airlines, such as by United at select gates in Houston, and appears to be on its way to more widespread deployment. The advantage is faster boarding at the gate, as several kiosks can board multiple passengers at once.
However, only a quarter of respondents felt self-boarding would improve the airport experience. Passengers lining up in assigned groups still crowd the automated turnstiles, and the lost footprint by replacing line space with kiosks can create more chaos. Also, there's still a limited number of doors on the plane itself, so pushing more people onto the jetway doesn't necessarily leads to faster boarding times.
This is borne out in which services travelers felt improved the airport experience the most.
The full report can be downloaded here.
NB: Connected airport image courtesy Shutterstock.