Flying gets impersonal: Half of Americans try to avoid airline personnel by using electronic and online methods

August 15, 2016

Electronic and online media, it seems, are the perfect means to ignore unwanted attention from airline staff. New research from Mintel reveals that half (48 percent) of Americans try to avoid airline personnel by using electronic and online methods, and Millennials are the nation’s worst culprits.

When it comes to interaction with airline staff, US Millennials top the list as the least personal flyers with a significant 61 percent admitting to hiding behind electronic devices in order to avoid interaction with airline personnel. But it appears consumers become more social with age. Beyond Millennials, less than half (46 percent) of Generation X say that they avoid airline personnel, as well as less than two in five (37 percent) Baby Boomers and just 30 percent of the WWII generation.  

However, while US flyers are busy hiding behind electronic devices, nearly half (48 percent) say it doesn’t matter if they have internet access in-flight. Nevertheless,  the majority of consumers (54 percent) say they would like to stream movies or TV shows while in-flight, including some 80 percent of Millennials.

“While automated technology is increasingly replacing people for cost-savings and convenience, some travelers – particularly older ones – still value the human touch. And although automation in travel is the direction of the industry, companies can counterbalance technology trends by investing in the human element of customer service,” said Fiona O’Donnell, Director of Multicultural, Lifestyles, Travel and Leisure at Mintel.

47% of US flyers believe most loyalty programs are not worth the effort

The decline of airline loyalty programs continues with major carriers restructuring their programs to be price-based rather than miles-based. Half (47 percent) of all US flyers believe most loyalty programs are not worth the effort; meanwhile, 67 percent say airline loyalty programs only benefit those who travel a lot within short time frames. What’s more, the majority of flyers are not particularly eager to earn loyalty rewards as just two in five (41 percent) try to fly with one particular airline when they can. Despite this, however, Mintel research reveals that overall enrollment in frequent flyer programs remains steady with an average of one in five (20 percent) US adults enrolled in a frequent flyer program.

Proving the importance of price when it comes to airline selection, lower price is the top consideration by US flyers. As many as two thirds (65 percent) of flyers say they would choose one airline over another based on price. Meanwhile, flight times (ie schedule) is the second most important factor (57 percent), while free baggage check (48 percent) rounds out the top three factors impacting airline selection. In contrast, only one third (36 percent) of US flyers select their flights according to loyalty program membership.

“Even as the industry enjoys an era of post deregulation profitability, increasingly price-driven consumers are researching flight options to find the best deals. While fuel costs remain low, airlines are able to maintain profitability and offer competitive fares. However, as fuel costs inch up, profits will be squeezed, leaving airlines with little wiggle room to increase prices. As loyalty toward any particular airline erodes due to program membership changes that appear to benefit only the most frequent, highest-spending flyers, flying is increasingly viewed as a commodity – and the lowest price wins,” continues O’Donnell.

62% of Americans believe flying is getting to be more of a hassle

Overall, one quarter (26 percent) of Americans have flown in the last each year*. While technology continues to improve measures across the industry, 62 percent of Americans believe flying is getting to be more of a hassle, rising to 70 percent of the most frequent travelers**. Despite the growing complexities of the flying experience, slightly more than half (54 percent) of consumers agree that they like flying, with just one in five (21 percent) in disagreement.

The US airline industry is stronger than it’s been in the past four decades. Operating cost reductions, declining energy prices, consolidation, and capacity optimization are driving revenues. However, from the consumer point of view, the flying experience has become more complex, with more restrictive carry-on rules and tighter screening protocols that often result in long security lines. As airlines are expected to carry a record number of passengers in 2016, cheap airfare may not be enough to overcome the frustration of long wait times and may lead some consumers to look for alternatives to commercial airline travel,” concludes O’Donnell.

*Adults aged 18+ who have traveled domestically in the 12 months ending March 2016

**10+ flights per year

Press review copies of Mintel’s Airlines US 2016 report and interviews with Fiona O’Donnell, Director of Multicultural, Lifestyles, Travel and Leisure, are available on request from the press office.

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For the latest in consumer and industry news, top trends and market perspectives, stay tuned to Mintel News featuring commentary from Mintel’s team of global category analysts.

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