WASHINGTON, DC – The affordability of airfare is enabling more people to take to the skies at a younger age and more often, according to a new national survey that found that 80 percent of Americans are satisfied or very satisfied with air travel. The survey which was commissioned by Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading US airlines, and released today found that the affordability and accessibility of air travel means the flying public more closely reflects the demographics in the United States.
“In the early days of commercial aviation, only the most affluent could afford to fly. In contrast, those who took to the skies in 2015 came from all income levels, age groups and ethnicities and increasingly reflect the U.S. population,” said John Heimlich, A4A Vice President and Chief Economist.
“Today, customers have more choices among airlines with respect to how they purchase their ticket and what services are included,” Heimlich said. “A majority of consumers told us they liked à la carte pricing because it enables them to choose only the items and services they value. This flexible pricing model has made air travel more accessible to Americans of all income levels.”
The survey, conducted in December 2015 by Ipsos Public Affairs, looked at who was traveling by air, why, where and how often; asked travelers to rate their air travel experience; assessed what factors were considered when purchasing travel; examined which components of the passenger experience were most important to them; and asked about their upcoming travel plans.
Majority of 2015 American flyers satisfied with experience
Of all 2015 travelers surveyed, 80 percent said they were satisfied – including 35 percent who were “very satisfied” – with their overall air travel experience. Price, convenience and reliability are the main reasons people fly and the majority feel that airlines are providing that. Of the remainder, 14 percent were “neutral,” 5 percent were “somewhat dissatisfied” and 1 percent were “very dissatisfied.”
These factors have encouraged Americans to plan more trips in 2016. Seventy-five percent of 2015 flyers and 53 percent of all Americans say they are somewhat or very likely to travel this year. Nearly one-third of all Americans said they will take more flights in 2016 along with the majority – 55 percent – who said they will fly the same amount as they did in 2015.
“This groundbreaking, comprehensive survey affirms that there has never been a better time to fly,” said Heimlich. “In addition to consummate safety performance, the industry is working to give passengers better customer service, more amenities, new routes and bigger planes. The fact that demand is strong, as evidenced by record levels of traffic in 2015, shows that passengers are making the connection between a healthy airline industry and a better flying experience.”
Flying more accessible than before
In 2015, 81 percent of American adults said they traveled by air in their lifetime and 45 percent said they had flown within the past 12 months. Younger travelers (who accounted for 35 percent of all flyers in 2015) and people with less than $50,000 annual household income (also 35 percent of all flyers in 2015) are more likely to fly today than in past decades.
The nature of air travel has also changed. A larger share of trips are being taken for personal (non-business) reasons. Of all trips taken by airline travelers in last year, 31 percent were for business purposes, down from 47 percent two decades earlier. And 88 percent of 2015 flyers took at least one airline trip last year for leisure purposes.
The accessibility of air travel has been enhanced by the airlines’ deployment of technology, which has made it easier for consumers to shop for travel, book tickets and check in for their flights. The survey results show that more than 90 percent of consumers book online and only 11 percent visit airline ticket counters to check in; half print their boarding passes at home while others use airport kiosks or personal mobile devices. Airlines continue to invest in technology to ease the air travel experience as nearly all flyers own some type of computer and more than three-quarters own a smartphone.
A snapshot of today’s traveler
With a greater percentage of Americans flying than ever before, the demographics of the air traveler have evolved. From the time of air travel being dominated by the affluent and business travelers, today’s passengers are more in line with the overall U.S. population.
• The Millennial Traveler: Younger travelers between 18-34 years old traveled most regularly in 2015 with an average of six trips, they are more multi-ethnic and are value-conscious when spending money on travel.
• The Senior Traveler: Retired travelers over 55 years old are discovering their love of travel during the retirement years. They are very price-conscious and want a stress-free experience getting to the plane and a comfortable experience while in the air. Over half of retired flyers surveyed said they want airlines to focus on inflight comfort.
• The Family: Families are taking to the skies more than before. While price is important to families, it is the convenience of moving the family from here to there in the safest way possible that is motivating them to fly. Family travelers typically traveled with four or more people in 2015, with 64 percent traveling with children under the age of 18.
• The Road Warrior: Road Warriors take 12 or more trips a year by air. They care most about comfort and inflight options such as seat outlets, Wi-Fi and entertainment. More than half (57 percent) of Road Warriors say they care most about logistics when deciding between modes of transportation, and airline schedules and routes are a priority.
American air travelers value choice
Because more people are traveling for personal reasons, when asked about preference between à la carte pricing versus bundled pricing, two-thirds of travelers said they prefer to pay only for the items and services they want “so my ticket ends up being less expensive.” Price is particularly important to older Americans (83 percent), women (85 percent) and people who flew for personal reasons (88 percent).
“Customers value having choices, and 86 percent of air travelers say price is the biggest deciding factor on whether to travel by airline versus another mode of transportation or versus not traveling at all, and having options about which services and amenities they purchase helps make that decision easier,” Heimlich said. “Airlines today offer a number of choices for seating, in-flight entertainment, and baggage; there is something for everyone’s needs.”
At the other end of the spectrum were amenities at the airport, which only 30 percent of 2015 flyers ranked among the top two factors in choosing whether to travel by air.