Inmarsat’s ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’ is the largest global survey of air passengers since the coronavirus crisis began. It reflects the views and attitudes of 9,500 respondents from 12 countries across the world, including more than 500 UAE-based passengers, about the future of flying.
The research shows that UAE travellers are keen to return to the skies in the near future, but would do so more confidently if certain measures were applied along their travel and inflight journey.
Neale Faulkner, Inmarsat Aviation’s Regional Vice President for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA), said: “The findings from our ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’ suggest a significant shift in travel behaviour is underway, which is likely to reshape air travel for the long-term.
“While UAE passengers are eager to return to travelling, the findings reveal their concerns around points of engagement and the inflight experience. This shows a clear opportunity for airlines to provide new digital services — from medical support to pre-ordered catering and contactless payment during the flight — to boost passenger confidence, while making sure health and safety needs can be fully met.”
After months of fast-changing travel restrictions, UAE passengers surveyed are now more concerned about having to quarantine than the risk of catching the virus on the plane or while abroad.Passengers also cited concerns over unpredictable border closures whilst travelling, which might leave them unable to return to the UAE. This indicates that passengers are less concerned about the risk of flying but more so about their experience when abroad.
Other factors such as trust in airlines is also now front of mind for UAE travellers. Over a quarter of those surveyed said they would fly only with airlines they trust. Over half of total passengers (52%) say that reputation is now a more significant factor when choosing an airline than it was pre-pandemic.
These reasons give insight into why 32 per cent of UAE respondents surveyed expressed that they are likely to cut back on air travel. Sharing similar sentiments, a third (31%) of global respondents plan to fly less, with four in ten global passengers (41%) expecting to travel less overall by any means.
Whilst air travel is expected to decline in the near to medium term, passengers from the UAE are more likely than their global counterparts to have taken a flight since the pandemic. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed (46%) have been on at least one flight – the third highest rate after India and the United States
Despite UAE and global passengers expecting to travel less in general, there are signs of confidence to fly again in the near future. The ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’ shows that almost half (47%) of total passengers surveyed expect to feel ready to fly before April 2021. Comparably — even though UAE travellers say they will reassess their travel habits — three in five UAE-based passengers say they would be confident to fly within the next six months.
Another indicator of rising passenger confidence was also revealed; when it comes to perceptions about the risk of the virus in certain environments, almost half of UAE citizens and residents surveyed believe taking a flight poses no greater risk than visiting a gym/leisure centre or a restaurant/bar.
On the flying experience, the survey findings suggest that in 2020, UAE flyers are mostly concerned with inflight touchpoints. Being served an inflight meal or visiting the aircraft toilet appear to be the most uncomfortable moments of the journey for UAE travellers at this time.
In contrast, UAE citizens and residents are comfortable moving around the airport terminal, at the boarding gate, and while boarding – ranking third highest globally when it comes to comes to confidence in the passenger experience. They also expressed more confidence in being around other passengers when compared to the global response.
The research identifies several actions for airlines to improve the experience of flying for UAE passengers post-COVID:
Elevated service and priority boarding: better service and priority boarding is considered more important following the COVID-19 pandemic and will impact the enjoyment of UAE passengers’ flying experience.
Digital solutions that minimise touchpoints and engagement: contactless payments inflight and pre-ordered contactless catering would boost confidence when flying for 92% and 86% of UAE passengers surveyed respectively.
Keeping passengers connected: almost 50% of UAE travellers surveyed say inflight Wi-Fi is more important now than it was pre-pandemic, and digital services such as destination status alerts and inflight video medical support would boost passenger confidence
Toilet queuing: 77% of UAE residents and citizens cited in the survey that a toilet queuing booking app would improve their confidence during the flight.