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Passengers Cautious About Employing Mobile Tech’s Potential

10/13/2013

This story first appeared on Airlineratings.com.

If you’re like the vast majority of airline passengers, a thoroughly savvy traveler, you’ve yet to unlock all the potential of that otherwise indispensable smart phone you pack in your pocket. So concludes the commercial aviation technology firm SITA.

Here’s the essential irony of it: SITA says while some 75 percent of airline passengers carry smart phones they’re not embracing all the benefits these devices can deliver. Consider, the 2013 SITA/Air Transport World Passenger IT Trends Survey finds less than 5 percent of passengers actually use mobile services such as check-in and booking.

What’s the disconnect here? SITA says 78 percent of passengers cite concerns about usability, as well as device limitations, as reasons for not employing mobile technology for their travel needs.

“Passengers are ready, but remain at the edge of really ‘going mobile,’” says SITA CEO Francesco Violante in a prepared release. Violante believes going to the heart of the problem is the best solution. “Improving usability and utilizing the unique capabilities of smart phones is the key to increase[ing] usage,” says the SITA chief.

It’s not that airline passengers are technophobes, reluctant Luddites who viscerally loathe technology, languishing in insular analog caves as the digital world races by. Indeed, Violante says, “Technology has become an indispensable travel tool for the vast majority of today’s passengers.” The survey shows a full 90 percent of passengers says technology has helped them while traveling. It’s just that the scope of that assistance – at least the range of capabilities passengers choose to employ – is what’s lagging.

Sure, you’ll text a friend on arrival to pick you up curbside on the terminal arrivals level, perhaps call for a hotel courtesy van. But will you actually check in from the palm of your hand or get a digitized boarding pass? That’s the apparent hang-up.

SITA seems to be saying the ease with which passengers can perform more complex travel tasks holds the key to unlocking the power of mobile digital devices. Violante contends, “Airlines and airports that recognize this, and provide passengers with easy-to-use mobile services that improve the travel experience, will enjoy higher adoption rates and passenger satisfaction.”

Such is the promise of the next wave of airport and airline passenger IT. The current wave is breaking just fine. SITA says a significant 69 percent of those responding to the survey book travel online via a Website. 20 percent, a full fifth, use airport kiosks to check in on the day they travel. Indeed, it’s this reporter’s observation that the days of short passenger queues in front of airport kiosks are a thing of the past.

Widespread adoption of mobile travel services constitutes the coming wave asserts SITA. Persuading passengers to change their travel habits means “deliver[ing] additional value over existing technology choices,” says SITA’s prepared release.

So, just what IT services do flyers say they want on their mobile devices? 63 percent answer that they’d definitely use their mobile to search flights; 58 percent say they’d check for the status of their flight. This is essential stuff, bedrock must-know information. However, survey respondents are less certain they’d actually make the plunge and purchase a ticket on their mobile. A mere 37 percent seem prepared to go that far.

This is one of those statistically-solid surveys that it’s hard to ignore. 2,489 passengers from more than 70 countries participated in the poll, a mix of both business and leisure flyers. The 2013 Passenger IT Trends Survey was carried out at a half-dozen airports: Abu Dhabi International, Beijing Capital, Chhatrapati Shivaji International in Mumbai, Frankfurt International, GRU Sao Paulo International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the planet’s busiest aerodrome.

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