Thank you for your interest in our Air Travel Survey. More than 400 Travelers responded to the current survey, and most were participating for the third time. We have been conducting this market research for the past year in collaboration with SH&E / ICF International, one of the world’s leading aviation consulting firms. In this time, we have learned much from the surveys and we have monitored the changes in how travelers feel about the air travel experience. We have also given away three Apple iPads to survey participants, with the latest won by Mary Ellen Egan, President of HMMH, a leader in environmental noise and vibration control, air quality analysis, airport and airspace planning, and climate and energy solutions.
The full survey is available at www.strategicpa.com, and we encourage you to view all of the results, but to start you off, here are five of the key findings based on the response of over 400 participants in our focus group.
1. Air Travelers in our focus group have recovered. 85% said the recovery has begun. The financial position of our focus group may not have regained the entire loss in wealth, largely because home prices dropped so precipitously, but they are ready to say that things are better.
2. How does this affect air travel? To some extent, the recovery was captured in 2010 when the domestic US industry grew by 5.3%. However, our focus group indicates that 44% expect even more growth this year. This is especially pronounced among the very frequent fliers 37% of the people who take more than 25 trips per year said that they would travel more in 2011 than they did in 2010. The severe winter we have had will mask this desire to travel in the statistics for January and February, but expect an upturn in the second quarter, despite increased fares due to higher fuel prices.
3. Despite this increase in travel, 81% are using technology to replace or augment air travel. Some of this technology adds to the intellectual capital that traditionally could be shared in face-to-face meetings or conference speeches. We found it interesting that 55% of the organizations responding to the survey now use Webinars to reach out to their colleagues and client base. In the future, we will probe whether this replaces air travel or does it simply extend the reach of communication. A second interesting point in the area of technology, is that 70% said their use of technology to replace face-to-face meetings had increased in 2010 and 90% said they expect this to increase in 2011. More air travel and more technology-enabled meetings, bodes well for a global recovery and economy. We think the demand for face-to-face meetings will grow, which is good for air travel. And, while the ability to communicate globally will increase, it will largely augment air travel rather than replace it.
4. More good news, considering the weather we have had for the past 10 weeks. Almost two-thirds of our focus group have recently had a flight significantly delayed or canceled. Despite this inconvenience, more than two-thirds felt the airline handled the delay in a satisfactory manner. This speaks well for airlines and airports. Airlines are doing a better job at getting the information out to their customers, while airports have made the airport experience more enjoyable with their plentiful concession offerings. For airports, the number-one request to enhance the experience was to offer more sit-down restaurants. For airlines, the number-one request to help ease the inconvenience of a delay was simply more information regarding the cause and extent. There was also a loud cry for more seating in the gate area and outside the gate area. With gate areas configured for the traditional 70% load factors, yet airlines now exceeding 80%, the number of people on the floor has dramatically increased. Airlines and airports need to address this concern.
5. Finally, the airlines are consolidating. Delta joined with Northwest, United joined Continental and Southwest is joining with AirTran. When asked if the passengers are noticing the effects of consolidation, 70% said yes, and most in the form of higher fares and lower service levels. Despite this response, these same travelers said they would travel more in 2011. This is good news for the health of the airline industry which has needed to consolidate for years and appears to be able to do so without negatively affecting the number of travelers. As load factors and fares go up, the experience will be negatively affected, but we will watch to see if, and how, this affects air travel.