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Airline passengers want more self-service and mobile-based offerings to reduce stress during travel, according to a new industry survey. More than two thirds of passengers now carry smartphones, which is fueling the demand for services such as self-boarding and flight information updates on their mobiles.

Airline technology company SITA has released its 2012 Air Transport World Passenger Self-Service Survey, which has found a massive growth is the use of mobile phone based self-service facilities over the last 12 months.

Almost two thirds used a self-service channel to check-in on the day of the survey, up from just over half last year. Close to 90% of passengers rate flight status updates on their mobiles and self-boarding as their top self-service technologies.

Francesco Violante, CEO of SITA, said: “What passengers really want is to avoid delays and to be kept informed of what is happening. Nearly everyone surveyed said they would welcome any queue-busting services and 89% voted self-boarding as their top technology. Airports and airlines are working in the same direction, so we expect to see significant growth in technologies aimed at reducing waiting times.

“We are already seeing the impact at airports with mobile check-ins increasing by a third during the last year. Nearly a quarter of passengers have now used a mobile phone boarding pass. We’re at the tipping point of explosive growth in mobile services offered to passengers, which will give them more control over their journey and reduce stress.”

These key findings are from the seventh annual SITA/ATW Passenger Self-Service Survey, carried out with a sample of the 280 million passengers who pass through six of the world's leading airport hubs: Abu Dhabi International; Beijing Capital International; Frankfurt International; Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta; Chhatrapati Shivaji International in Mumbai; and Guarulhos International in Sao Paulo.

As passengers become used to the services currently on offer, they want more. For example, self-service check-in has been popular for some time, but checking in a bag has remained a barrier. However, passengers are now showing a willingness to do it themselves, with two thirds picking automated bag drop as one of their top self-service offerings.

Websites are the most frequently used platform for check-in, with 79% using them regularly or occasionally. Kiosk usage also increased further, with 77% of passengers using them for check-in reinforcing the fact that passengers want multi-channel self-service.

The survey confirms another trend showing that the majority of travelers are active on social media. Nearly two thirds of passengers use social media, which is a higher penetration rate than recorded for the general population. The findings also suggest that social media usage among travelers differs significantly by age with 80% of younger travelers (aged 18-24) active on social media, compared to 39% of the over-55s.

Although passengers express interest in using social media for travel-related activities, it is generally lower than for other channels such as mobile. Only 65% of passengers said they would use flight status updates if offered via social media, while 89% of passengers will use them when offered on mobiles.

Passengers show a lack of enthusiasm for receiving service promotion or retail offers on their mobile phones, with just over half open to receiving advertising. But of those who do not want to receive advertising, 61% would change their mind if they were given control over what they receive. They are interested in promotions only if airlines and airports personalise them, make them relevant and allow the passenger to control their delivery.

The survey included 2526 passengers from more than 70 countries. Compared to previous years, a higher percentage of business travelers was encountered at all locations, and hence a higher percentage of frequent flyers.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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