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Survey: Airline passengers want more self-service

The results of the 2012 SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self-Service Survey were released yesterday, and the findings show that passengers want more control of their travel experience, as they look for more self-service and mobile-based offerings to reduce stress during their journey. 

The survey included 2,526 passengers from more than 70 countries and focused on airports in Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Frankfurt, Atlanta, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. Here are some of the survey's highlights:

The passenger experience and self-service acceptance

For some, the excitement of air travel has been replaced by more stressful and unpleasant experiences, resulting from crowded airports, rising passenger numbers and increased security checks, according to the survey. However, passengers do not consider all steps of their journey equally challenging.

The main source of stress for passengers is "long wait times and queues," with "unexpected changes/lack of information" and "lack of control" a distant second and third, according to survey results. Passengers consider security, transfer and check-in to be the most stressful steps of the journey.

Passengers are generally positive about using technology to assist them during their travel experience, particularly if it reduces stress, the survey found. Self-service continues to be increasingly popular with passengers, with almost two thirds of those surveyed having used a self-service channel to check in on the day of the survey, up from just more than half last year.

"To understand what can be done to improve travel, we need to understand how passengers feel about travel," said Tom Knierim, senior manager of marketing and insight for SITA, during today's SITA/ATW hosted webinar. "The loss of time is the number one concern. The passenger named lack of info the most challenging. Not having correct information available at the right time or place is a main reason for stress while traveling."

Most attractive self-service technologies 

This year, websites dominated as the most frequently used platform for self-check-in, with 79 percent of travelers using them regularly or occasionally, according to survey results. Kiosk usage also increased further, with 77 percent of passengers using them for check-in, underlining the fact that passengers want multichannel self-service.

Almost all passengers interviewed welcomed the idea of automated self-boarding gates and kiosks for flight transfers, along with automated baggage drop.

The notion of using an automated boarding gate has been talked about for years, but only a few airlines have made it reality, Knierim said, and airlines are now including them in plans for the next three years. Passengers ranked this high, with 89 percent voting self-boarding as their top technology. 

Automated baggage drop was listed as another one of passengers' top self-service offerings, with 68 percent favoring the option. According to Knierim, automated baggage check-in stations are not yet widely available.

Results from the 2012 SITA/Airline Business and Airport IT Trends surveys reported that 74 percent of airlines and 60 percent of airports plan to offer automated bag-drop by 2015. 

"Self-service bag-check and mobile boarding could help overcome stress while traveling," Knierim explained. "The self-service success story is continuing, and the popularity remains high."

Global differences in self-service

There are some cultural challenges to the acceptance of self-service technologies in certain parts of the world, according to officials from the Abu Dhabi airport, which was one of the focus locations for the survey. 

"Most families using the Abu Dhabi airport prefer personal attention from staff," said Hamed Al Heshemi, the VP of information and communications at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, during today's webinar. Al Heshemi explained that it is not commonly popular for passengers to want to do more activities, such as baggage check-in and ticketing, themselves. 

"There are adoption challenges to self-service as we cater to mix of nationalities," he said.

Subsequently, Abu Dhabi ranked on the low end of self-service progression. 

The mobile impact

The mobile phone is now a standard accessory for all passengers, according to survey results, with 70 percent carrying a smartphone, up from 54 percent in 2011. 

"We find it is no longer the question of, 'Will mobile transform travel?' but how fast and to what extent will it do so," Knierim said. "2011 was a pivotal year for the mobile industry, the amazing rate that consumers have adopted smartphones. Mobile apps are now offered by 50 percent of airlines, and we expect that to go to 90 percent by 2015."

The usage of mobile check-in and boarding has increased as well, Knierim said, with a strong acceleration occurring this year.

"Multichannel interaction has much become commonplace," he said. "Eighty percent of passengers use both Internet and kiosks. Mobile check-in could be used as frequently as other channels in a few years' time. All in all, passengers welcome the opportunity to move seamlessly across channels."

Read more about self-service in transportation and travel.

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