Survey Says: Travelers Want The Opposite Of What Airports Are Doing

(Forbes) Air travelers want to get where they need to go as fast as possible and with as little drama as possible. Airports, airlines and tech providers are responding by investing heavily in automation to make that happen. But according to a new OAG survey of 2,000 travelers in North America, travelers would prefer to see those problems solved with humans, not machines.

Take waiting in line, for example. Half of travelers in the survey report spending at least 45 minutes waiting in line at the airport, with one in five saying they spend at least an hour in line, on average. The lion’s share of that wait time happens at the security checkpoint, and airports and the TSA are increasingly turning to high-tech scanners and biometric screening devices to streamline queues.

But ask travelers what they believe is the best way to speed up the security experience, and the number one response is out of the keep-it-simple-stupid playbook: Just open more lanes. Four in 10 respondents (40%) said the TSA should add more loading zones for passengers to prepare their bags for scanning, compared to 29% of travelers who ranked biometrics-based identification processes as the number one choice.

Those numbers mirror the findings of a recent PCMag survey of over 2,000 consumers, where only 28 percent of respondents said they were comfortable with facial recognition technology used at the airport for identification purposes and to reduce wait times.

Travelers seem to think mismanagement is at least partly to blame for long lines at the TSA checkpoints. Interestingly, nearly 60% of travelers surveyed by OAG would let airports, airlines and other travel providers track their location through a mobile or wearable device if the data was used to redeploy staff to busy areas of the airport. 

As it happens, long security wait times are more likely to be due to understaffing than poor allocation of resources – and that’s not going to get better anytime soon. As reported The Washington Post, the TSA expects a 4.5 percent increase in airline passengers in 2020 but is only getting a 2.5 percent bump in staff numbers.

In fact, for virtually every function during the air traveler’s journey, respondents in the OAG survey expressed a preference for human customer service to technology automation, including baggage (54% human vs. 46% automation), security (55% to 45%), boarding (64% to 36%), concierge (83% to 17%) and in-flight services (80% to 20%).

There is one exception. A significant majority of travelers seem to be just fine with the kiosks that are already commonplace in airline check-in areas, as respondents said they preferred automation when it comes to ticketing (66% automation vs. 34% human) and check-in (68% automation vs. 32% human).

Despite all the apps already out there, the OAG survey suggests that there is still something incredibly basic that travelers believe would improve their airport experience. Google Maps or Waze, if you’re listening, more than half of travelers (54%) simply want in-airport turn-by-turn GPS directions for navigating terminals and gates.

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