Many changes lie ahead, and Viasat survey shows in-flight connectivity will play a pivotal role
International Aviation Day feels a bit different this year. The industry is struggling, but hints of optimism are emerging. Vaccines are moving toward approval and governments are setting up testing protocols that will see some borders reopen. This should allow increasing numbers of passengers to enjoy the frequency and freedom of flying so common just a year ago.
But the industry also recognizes that air travel as it once was will be forever changed by the pandemic. In many ways it is fitting that the ICAO Council declared that from 2020 to 2023 the theme of International Aviation Day Dec. 7 will be Advancing Innovation for Global Aviation Development — as innovation will define so many facets of the recovery process.
New processes, new innovations
As passengers return to air travel, they bring a different set of expectations than before. They must, of course, feel safe when returning to the skies — a challenge for innovators on the ground and in the air. New cleaning protocols and service adjustments address the bulk of these challenges.
Airlines are turning to web portals to deliver that new in-flight service experience. While a handful of airlines offered this experience prior to the pandemic, it was much more of a theoretical trend than one implemented broadly. The past six months have seen multiple airlines design and deploy new solutions.
Passengers can once again buy snacks or trinkets on board, now easily managed through a modern shopping portal rather than a paper catalog for passengers and crew. It also delivers a boost to the important ancillary sales channel so many airlines depend on to meet revenue targets.
The new portals also require changes to the way airlines track and plan for the in-flight sales experience. Integration with point-of-sale and legacy supplier infrastructure is critical; all that data needs a secure and reliable connection on which to pass. Innovation is key to meeting these requirements.
Delivering a different in-flight connectivity experience
Passenger expectations while en route are also shifting, presenting a different set of challenges to the innovators. Whether to stream more content, join a video call with friends (or, ugh, for work), or just to feel connected to the rest of society while isolated in the sky, passengers say that in-flight connectivity is an even more important part of the travel experience today.
A recent Viasat survey of 500 U.S.-based travelers revealed that access to in-flight connectivity could skew how quickly travelers are considering returning to flight as well as how comfortable they will be once in the sky. Those who previously connected in the sky intend to return to flight sooner, either because they want to or because they have to, with about 85% of Wi-Fi users expecting to fly in the next six months — compared to just 65% of non-Wi-Fi users.
Once on board the respondents increasingly see in-flight Wi-Fi as an essential part of the travel experience. More than 60% of those surveyed say it is more important than it was previously, while only 5% say it is less relevant to their travels.
And when given a choice of what amenities could make flying more comfortable, free inflight Wi-Fi again led the list of responses, beating out free drinks and meals as well as movies and TV content. Some 43% of respondents have a stronger desire to use the Wi-Fi on board than they did pre-COVID.
Travel was stressful in the before times and even more so today. But in-flight connectivity (IFC) can act as a salve, reducing anxiety and helping passengers to relax. That benefit is especially important when it comes to families traveling.
Nearly three quarters of passengers traveling with children see in-flight connectivity as delivering a less-stressful travel experience. With the bulk of travel demand today coming from the leisure and visiting family and relatives (VFR) segments that tend to skew more toward family trips, the ability of an airline to offer that connected experience, especially for free, could attract an increased share of traffic during the recovery period.
Longer term, the opportunity to deliver stronger ancillary revenue returns is also promising. Getting more passengers engaged with the in-flight connectivity system today opens the opportunity to sell more different products tomorrow. Whether it is expanding the on-board shop to include on-arrival or home delivery of merchandise or targeting travelers with more compelling destination activity offers, the key friction point is getting the customer in the door or, in this context, on the site. Building a better portal is an important step in the innovation process, but passengers must also see a reason to make that first click.
Fast, reliable IFC can make all the difference when it comes to making that a reality.
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