Airlines and airports around the world have committed to improve and personalize the travel experience by 2017.

Through the efficient application of technology, aviation technology company SITA reports that we’ll be able to spend less time checking in, have more time at the lounge or airport shops, get live updates on the status of our flights, and use apps to make quick changes or new bookings during what may be fewer occasions of travel disruptions.

But where does the industry stand today and just how much improvement can we expect?

The Future of Personal 2015 report, published today by SITA, gives us specific percentages for the progress of key passenger experience enhancement projects today and the percentage of implementation expected by 2017.

The numbers on SITA’s Airline Survey, from which these figures are drawn, come from the Top 200 airlines, including IATA and non-IATA members, with airline responders representing 52% of global passengers boarded. The Airport Survey targets the world’s top airports and included responses from 106 airport operators.

We used these percentages published by SITA to grade the industry, and judge the overall effectiveness of its improvement goals by 2017.

Grades for both airlines and airports are graded on a bell curve for 2014 and 2017, respectively. We also include a percentage of improvement which reflects how much more common these features will be, and highlights the significant amount of work ahead for airlines and airports to reach their stated 2017 goals.

Customer-Relationship ManagementAirlines19%PASS73%PASS284%
Options to Personalize TripAirlines12%PASS64%PASS433%
Customer-Relationship ManagementAirports26%PASS78%PASS200%
Airport Status UpdatesAirports18%PASS73%PASS306%
Personalized info servicesAirports12%NI65%PASS442%
Connectivity and Entertainment
Mobile browsing onboardAirlines25%PASS69%PASS176%
Mobile voice (international)Airlines14%NI52%NI271%
Wireless IFEAirlines6%FAIL53%PASS783%
Live TVAirlines6%FAIL47%NI683%
Travel Disruption Management
Passenger RecoveryAirlines22%PASS72%PASS227%
Staff Situational AwarenessAirlines15%NI71%PASS373%
Passenger RecoveryAirports17%PASS52%NI206%
Staff Situational AwarenessAirports23%PASS61%PASS165%
Additional Passenger Experiene Improvements
Wayfinding by appAirports24%PASS48%NI100%
Check-in by appAirlines66%EXCEL94%EXCEL42%
Mobile boarding passesAirlines53%PASS91%BA72%
Automatic rebooking for passengersAirlines22%PASS72%PASS227%
Premium rebooking servicesAirlines25%PASS67%PASS168%
Self-service rebooking toolsAirlines18%PASS76%PASS322%
Device-empowered staffAirlines21%PASS82%PASS290%
Device-empowered staffAirports23%PASS62%PASS170%
Real-time information & alerts to pax mobileAirports31%PASS66%PASS113%
Self-service disruption toolsAirports17%PASS52%NI206%
Real-time info & alerts to pax mobileAirlines53%PASS93%BA75%
Disruption updates on Social MediaAirlines37%PASS81%PASS119%
Disruption updates to stakeholders via email and phoneAirlines32%PASS61%PASS91%

* BA=Better than average, NI=Needs Improvement

The goals presented in the SITA report, by both airlines and airports, are aggressive, as reflected by the percentage of improvement shown for most categories.

Nigel Pickford, Director, Market Insight & Marketing Operations at SITA admits these “are hard to realise as an industry overall” but, as he tells us, “there is clearly a strong aspiration from both airlines and airports to transform the air travel industry, and in particular the overall travel experience for the tech-savvy, ‘me-centric’ passenger of today.” He says progress depends on “sophisticated app design, consistency at the origin and destination airports, and the availability of the same levels of information to staff–both customer-facing teams and operational teams.”

But what gains can aviation expect from all these improvements?

Pickford tells us: “Airlines and airports are both motivated to invest because the passenger experience of the future will have a significant bearing on passengers’ choice of carriers and airports.”

Performing on Promises

Airlines currently perform lowest in the areas of availability of wireless in-flight entertainment, live TV installations, and travel disruption prevention with only 6% of airlines reporting implementation of the necessary improvements to technology.

Airports perform lowest on disruption prevention too, with only 7% of airports currently reporting technology implementation which will help them better manage these events.

Airlines perform best in the areas of mobile boarding passes and real-time information relayed to passengers through passenger devices, with 53% of airlines having completed implementations of each of these.

Airports perform best on real-time information and travel disruption alerts sent to passengers’ mobile devices.

The most eye-brow raising prediction for tomorrow in the report came from JetBlue’s Executive Vice President and CIO, Eash Sundaram, when describing just how personalized interaction between airlines and customers might be.

“We’re looking at profiling people’s moods on a real-time basis using social media input,” he says. “For example, we could understand from customers’ social media profiles whether they’re happy, or maybe going to a wedding, or graduation. Think of a plane full of people with certain categories of profile: we can deliver content that’s specific to them, right to their seats.”

The aviation industry has made aggressive commitments across the board to improve all these processes. The most dramatic change projected is in the implementation of wireless in-flight entertainment, which would allow passengers to enjoy whatever entertainment content they prefer on their personal devices, in addition to or in place of any in-flight entertainment system embedded on the seat back. This service is projected to improve by a whopping 783%, enough to bring this passenger experience up two grade levels from ‘FAIL’ to ‘PASS’.

Huge progress is also promised in the area of in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity. According a Euroconsult 26 June 2014 report, cited by SITA, the number of connected commercial aircraft is expected to grow to 12,900 by 2023. SITA reports that 73% of airlines will offer connectivity by the end of 2017, compared to 34% of airlines today.

The most marked improvements—ones significant enough to raise the score in the context of other planned enhancements—are projected in the areas of personalized information services at airports, live TV on airlines, staff situational awareness at airlines, and way-finding via airport app.

However, the industry should note that, based on its own stated goals, the areas of travel disruption prevention by airlines and technology at airports which aides passenger recovery from disruptions (namely self-service disruption tools) are not projected to improve at a rate sufficient to maintain current grades by 2017. These could be areas to review, do more homework, and concentrate more effort.

Tags: ux
Photo Credit: A rendering of Beacon technology at an airport. SITA