The Rise Of The Wired Air Traveler And How To Be One

10/04/2011 11:50 am ET | Updated Dec 04, 2011

The major finding of a new SITA survey released Monday is that passengers increasingly expect airlines and airports to communicate directly with them via mobile devices. The survey results show that 95 percent of passengers are now capable of receiving SMS notifications and half may use travel-related mobile apps.

“We are now entering the era of the mobile-centric passenger, who is not only able to manage his or her journey independently but also expects personal and timely communication from airlines, airports and other providers of travel-related services,” Francesco Violante, SITA CEO, said in a press release.

This is the sixth year that SITA, which specializes in air transport communications, has conducted its Passenger Self-Service Survey, produced with Air Transport World (For last year’s results, click here.) The survey included 2,457 passengers from 70 countries flying on 73 airlines. Data was gathered at six airports: Abu Dhabi International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Frankfurt's International Airport, Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport.

Catherine Stam, SITA director of portfolio marketing, told HuffPost Travel via email that the notion of the mobile-centric, self-reliant passenger is interesting because “Passengers used to be reluctant to adopt new self-service solutions. Nowadays they are eager to adopt them.”

Since last year’s survey, 27 percent more passengers are armed with smart phones.

The survey also found that passengers are increasing their use of self-service options like self-service gates and bag-tracking apps. Alternatives to airport check-in kiosks are being used more as well. This includes mobile check-in and off-airport check-in at places like hotels, train stations and convention centers.

Among those carrying cell phones, 73 percent would like to use mobile boarding passes while 17 percent already had. Roughly 31 percent of smartphone holders use mobile check-in frequently or occasionally while only 44 percent of passengers continued to use the check out counter -- down eight percent from 2010.

Other technologies are being incorporated into the airport experience as well.

“One of passengers' concerns is the time it will take them to go through the security checkpoint,” Stam said. “Bluetooth sensors are able to follow the progress of passengers through the security line and determine how long the average wait is at a specific time.”

This allows airports to aid travelers in a number of ways. It can indicate when additional staff is needed, inform passengers of wait times, and inform airlines if passengers might be stuck at security. Also, airports can then send wait time information to passengers via mobile phones before they even arrive at the airport.

There are many technologies that cater to travelers who like to take advantage of them. The flight search engine Hipmunk includes in its results whether or not a flight has Wi-Fi. In-flight tech was beefed-up recently by Qantas, which plans to introduce in-flight iPad entertainment this month. Even the State Department got in on the act when it released its own iPhone app.

For more smartphone tech, see “11 Best Apps For Travelers.” Or, stick to a budget with “Best IPhone Travel Apps For Thrifty Jetsetters.”

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