Forget robots (for now): Travelers want simplicity and humans at the airport

The best ways to delight today’s travelers and grow revenue may surprise you. While the industry continues to test high tech investments, data shows there are easier and more affordable ways to reduce friction and delight travelers.

Automation certainly has its place, but today, travelers crave simplicity and practicality – and although technology delivers in many cases, it’s not a cure-all.

We found, based on a survey of over 2K U.S. travelers, via OAG’s flightview app that most still prefer human customer service to technology automation for almost every travel function – baggage (54%), security (55%), boarding (64%), concierge (83%), and in-flight services (80%). And only 19% see value in interactive robots for concierge services and travel information.

What topped travelers’ wish lists?

  • Turn-by-turn GPS directions for navigating terminals and gates (54%)
  • More loading zones for preparing bags for scanning (40%)
  • Flight delays and cancellation predictions (78%)
  • Real-time updates on expected boarding times (75%), security wait times (77%) and walking times between terminals and gates (55%)

The takeaway for travel leaders: investing in emerging technology is smart – we expect the preference toward automation will shift quickly -- but the easy and simple wins, such as consistent flight information, text message alerts before boarding, and more security trays can immediately reduce stress and delight travelers – and drive as much, if not more, value as multi-million-dollar tech investments.

In fact, arming travelers with prescriptive intelligence can have a direct impact on gate-side revenue. Travelers that feel informed with real-time updates are generally more confident venturing away from the gate to patronize restaurants, retail stores and bars -- something many aren’t doing today over fear of missing important flight information.  

The other revenue opportunity that’s ripe for airports and providers: on-demand food and beverage through mobile: 66% of travelers would pre-order food or drink for pickup at a gate-side restaurant, and 62% would do delivery. Only 6% and 9% respectively are doing so today. Looking at the numbers, that’s a big slice of the pie ready for the taking.

We uncovered a lot more on the airport experience, including the promise of self-service retail, security innovations, and more.