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As IATA states in its report, “Airline passengers want what they want. Sometimes they want the same thing. And sometimes they don’t.”

At the IATA World Passenger Summit the focus was decidedly on passenger needs, except when the focus turned to promoting the organization’s new distribution capability (NDC) retailing platform, which was also presented as the ideal way to address changing passenger needs.

Here are some highlights of what air travelers say they want now, based on IATA’s and Atmosphere’s collaborative online survey of nearly 5,000 airline business and leisure passengers in eight participating countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

Mobile Means Different Things to Different People

IATA’s survey found that travelers are highly mobile.

  • 70% of business passengers own tablets and 60% of leisure travelers do.
  • 80% of business passengers carry smartphones as do four out of five leisure travelers.

But app notifications are often wasted. Due to lack of adequate connectivity at airports, in the air, and even at home, 58% of passengers prefer airlines to update them by reliable old-school SMS. Though 69% of passengers use mobile boarding passes, many still prefer to have paper copies too. Just in case.

SITA’s Director, Marketing Operations and Market Insight, Nigel Pickford, tells us the aviation technology company has classified these individuals as “Careful Planners.” There are evidently a lot of us out there.

Go On, Sell, Sell, Sell

Mobile offers, IATA says, are also welcome.

“56% of leisure passengers and 62% of business passengers want travel companies to email or text them in real time with promotional offers,” IATA states.

Getting Personal Is Great. Now Back Off, Please

A personalized travel experience, built around individual preferences, is essential to the future of travel. Pretty much everyone agrees on that point.

  • 68% of business passengers and 64% of leisure travelers would be comfortable letting airlines and travel agents track their preferences to tailor-make future offers.

But true personalisation requires data exchange between stakeholders, which hasn’t entirely been ironed out. While many are optimistic that internal issues will be resolved, privacy laws, requiring data only be used for the purpose intended, will make data exchange a delicate matter.

Passengers embrace data sharing when the question is presented as a passenger enhancement, but can be repelled by perceived security issues, such as the recent furore over barcode data being exploited by malicious third parties. (Caveat: The reason that data is barcoded is to keep it secure from prying eyes, and sharing images of personal documents, such as tickets, on social media is unwise.) There’s also a balance to be maintained, somewhere between personal and creepy, which the industry is working to achieve.

Digital Isn’t Doing Its Job

According to research by IATA and Atmosphere, passengers are generally unhappy with digital airline travel planning. Even so, they use it. A lot.

Nearly nine in ten business and leisure travelers are Bookers (a traveler who researches and books their own trip, in whole or in part, on the internet.)

  • Leisure travelers book anywhere between 65% and 85% of their flights online themselves.
  • Business travelers come close, between 63% and 83%.

But these Bookers rank shopping next to last, behind all other consumer categories, including buying books, entertainment, electronics, banking, clothing and lodging. Only car rental digital platforms are more annoying to consumers than airlines.

Who’s Getting it Right?

Inspiration comes from online retailers like Amazon, Carrefour, and Alibaba. “As these firms improve their digital experiences, they elevate passengers’ expectations for what flight shopping and booking should be,” IATA states.

Monogamy Is Complicated

Loyalty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on anymore, and that’s not just because it’s gone digital. Though, IATA suggests, it’s mostly because it’s gone digital.

  • 52% of leisure passengers and 57% of business passengers use the same companies to book their flights, but that’s habit more than love.

Both types of passengers double-time their favorite sites by checking out other channels, including airline direct and third-party sites. It’s all about checking out the competition. Some return to the comfort of a smaller pool of preferred sites to make the final purchase.

Still, passengers show regret over all the bouncing around. 39% of leisure passengers and 45% of business passengers believe they use too many websites to find and book their trips.

But It’s the Old Story

“Passengers ‘hopscotching’ across so many channels to search and book flights highlights several challenges for airlines and their partners. First, the use of so many channels indicates passengers may not be able to find the flight information they need or want through a single outlet. Second, passengers may not trust the information they find in one place and feel they need to verify it elsewhere,” IATA reports. “Third, the information provided may not be clear or comprehensive enough to answer the passenger’s questions.”

‘Hopschotching’ is also a sign that customers need “rich airline content usable across a variety of channels and platforms,” IATA states.

We’ve heard that before. For more insights, here’s a link to the full IATA report.

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Photo credit: A JetBlue boarding pass on the Apple Watch. Skift

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