Nine in ten American air passengers do not expect to return to previous travel routines after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Inmarsat survey.

The “Passenger Confidence Tracker” is reported to be the world’s largest survey of air passengers since the coronavirus pandemic began, reflecting the attitudes of 9,500 respondents from 12 countries about the future of flying.

The responses of 1,000 US passengers, who have taken a flight in the past 18 months, suggest a long-term shift in travel habits is underway, with 43% of American passengers planning to travel less often by any means and a third (36%) expecting to fly less.

Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation, said: “Our ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’ reveals a fascinating global shift in travel behaviour, which could see air travel reshaped entirely. Interestingly, the survey finds that people in the United States are among the most confident to get on a plane in the short term – and yet almost unanimously, they foresee a long-term shift in their travel habits as a result of the pandemic.”

US passengers – topped only by those in India – are the most likely in the world to have already flown during the COVID-19 pandemic, with half (50%) of those surveyed in the US having taken at least one flight since the virus reached the country. In its outlook for 2021, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) noted that North American airlines have benefitted from an earlier recovery thanks to its domestic market, which is the largest in the world.[1]

Globally, just 34% of passengers surveyed have flown during the pandemic, and in countries such as the United Kingdom, the figure is as low as 23%. Looking slightly further ahead, six in ten (60%) US passengers surveyed say they would feel confident getting back on a flight within in the next six months – compared to 47% globally.

Inmarsat’s Passenger Confidence Tracker explored several factors that influence passenger behaviour and confidence. In the US in particular, confidence scores correlate with high satisfaction levels about the airline industry’s response to the pandemic. Encouragingly for carriers in the region, seven in ten (71%) US passengers surveyed state that they are satisfied in this respect – compared with just 41% of passengers from the UK and 37% of South Koreans.

American passengers are relatively confident in safety precautions being taken throughout the journey. While they report feeling more confident than most other nations at the idea of being in proximity with other passengers when they travel, they feel least confident at passport control and when staying somewhere abroad in general. The biggest concerns preventing US passengers from travelling are the risk of catching the virus abroad (53%) and catching the virus on the plane or in the airport (53%).

Half of US passengers (50%) surveyed say that reputation is now a more significant factor when choosing an airline than it was before the pandemic. It has therefore never been more vital for airlines to differentiate and gain a competitive edge.

The research identifies several actionable solutions for airlines to improve the inflight experience and boost confidence for US passengers post-COVID:

  • Streamlining the journey: the reallocation of empty seats for social distancing and inflight immigration clearance would boost confidence for 84% and 74% of US passengers respectively.
  • Digital solutions that minimise touchpoints and engagement: contactless payments inflight and accessing inflight entertainment on personal devices (rather than seatback screens) would boost confidence for 78% and 73% US passengers respectively.
  • Keeping passengers connected: Half of US passengers say inflight Wi-Fi is more important now than it was pre-pandemic, and digital services such as destination status alerts and telemedicine would boost passenger confidence (by 74% and 70% respectively).
  • Value-added services: From extra legroom (48%) to free baggage (49%), value added services are becoming increasingly important to US passengers returning to the skies.

Niels Steenstrup, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Vice President of Inflight Business, said: “The Passenger Confidence Tracker reveals a clear opportunity for airlines to implement digital solutions that can boost confidence by minimising touch-points in the journey, while ensuring that passengers are kept connected and entertained.”

With passenger habits shifting and demand for inflight digital services reaching new heights in 2020, Inmarsat recently announced a ground-breaking new service to bring unrivalled inflight Wi-Fi to airlines and passengers across the North American continent. Making digital transformation in the skies a reality, GX+ North America has been specifically designed, in partnership with Hughes, for the needs of North American airlines. It ensures airlines in the region can meet increasing passenger demand for digital services in the cabin – including the surge in traffic expected to result from free-of-charge inflight Wi-Fi.

The ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’ was a global survey of passenger attitudes in light of COVID-19, commissioned by Inmarsat and carried out by market research company Yonder.  Yonder conducted an online sample of 9,596 online interviews among respondents who have taken a flight for leisure or business in the past 18 months. The survey was conducted between 22 September and 5 October 2020. Respondents were surveyed across the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, India, Brazil, Hungary, Finland and Spain.

The full report is available to download here. 

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