Shifting passenger behaviour is reshaping the future of airport experiences forever

Luis Felipe de Oliveira by Luis Felipe de Oliveira | Feb 16, 2021

With many borders still closed and travel restriction in place, the recovery process and kickstarting travel is taking longer than we had anticipated but some aspects are clear: people want to travel again but there is also concern about how they can navigate travel safely and which restrictions they will be subject to.

Personal growth and transformation often happen when we travel, when we experience a new culture for the first time. It might not always be immediately recognized but it is moments like these that make travelling such an invaluable experience.

According to the ASQ Global Traveller Survey, when asked in the end of 2020, 48% of travellers considered themselves likely to travel “within the next three months”. Despite this eagerness to travel, however, around 80% said that having to quarantine would discourage them from going forward with their travel plans. 

Even before the pandemic, parts of the passenger journey had the potential to cause some stress or anxiety, even for the most experienced travellers. Airports have always prioritized making the customer experience stress-free, smoothing the experience so that passengers have an enjoyable journey from curb to gate.

As the pandemic unfolded, airports capitalized on this approach in introducing hygiene and health-related measures to ensure that passengers feel comfortable and confident to fly.

As we pivot from managing the current crisis to preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities, it is clear that recovery will be boosted if passengers continue to have confidence in the health and safety of air transport.

The need for global harmonization

As with most developments during the pandemic, circumstances continue to change almost on a daily basis. The swift reaction by governments across the globe to close borders following the emergence of new COVID-19 strains has once again highlighted the uncertainty our industry will continue to face in the coming months.

The new travel restrictions are particularly disheartening because they followed several weeks of positive news and promising developments on the vaccine front which sparked optimism that the pandemic’s end might be in sight.

The fundamental issue we are all facing currently is the lack of global harmonization and consistency.

Confusion and lack of uniformity over travel rules is evident and hampering the efforts of the aviation industry to recover. Passengers want a consistent set of safety standards around the world and want to feel confident that the same hygiene practices, aligned with global standards, are being followed everywhere. While many of us are keen to start travelling again, the inconsistent border restrictions along with mandatory quarantines continue to cause frustration and are discouraging travellers from booking their next trip.

While we all wait patiently for the vaccine rollout, urgent government action is required to introduce widespread and coordinated testing of passengers to enable quarantine requirements to be removed. Collaboration and consistency between all players in the aviation industry will be vital to continue to increase passenger confidence and safely welcome them back.

Shifting passengers needs

The pandemic has impacted virtually all aspects of our lives – it has changed the way we work, study, shop, communicate, and inarguably it will bring about permanent changes to the way we travel. Passenger behaviours and expectations will evolve, and the provision of airport customer experience will need to follow suit to accommodate new needs.

While it is difficult to predict exactly what the new trends will look like, in times of crisis humans want to know that they matter. For airports this means listening, understanding, and adapting to shifting passenger behaviours, values, and needs. These changes will also bring about the need for higher degrees of personalization, predictability, and authenticity.

Successful organizations are already tapping into these shifts in behaviour to improve consumer relevancy and differentiate themselves from the competition. Rather than make assumptions about people’s needs, the most successful ones are those that seek a better understanding of the people rewriting the new rules: the consumer.

This information is crucial, especially once airports enter the period of full speed recovery, and will be an important tool to help them regain passenger’s trust. Understanding travellers needs will give airports an opportunity to tailor their services and take a human-at-the center approach to rebuild passenger confidence, encouraging them to travel again.

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

Airports around the world continue to go above and beyond to provide an airport experience that is safe, hygienic, and responsive to the changing needs and expectations of passengers.

To celebrate their achievements, ACI has launched the Voice of the Customer recognition for airports that continue to prioritize their customers and remained committed to ensuring that their voice was heard during the pandemic. This initiative highlights those who have made significant efforts in gathering passenger feedback through the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme to help them better understand their customers and better position themselves to build back safer and more satisfying experiences for travellers.

The Airport Service Quality programme is the world’s leading airport customer experience measurement and benchmarking programme. The ASQ Departures programme measures passengers’ satisfaction across 34 key performance indicators. More than half of the world’s travellers pass through an ASQ airport.

Congratulations to all 140 airports that have been recognized and I applaud you and your team for your untiring dedication and fortitude during this difficult time.

Breaking records

This month the Airport Health Accreditation (AHA) programme reached a new record of applications and surpassed the 500 mark. The programme continues to meet the needs of our members and demonstrates the airports’ commitment to delivering the objectives set forth by Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) Take-Off guidance and meeting the expectations of the global aviation community in terms of best practice for health and hygiene.
The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) support for the accreditation programme has provided immeasurable assistance in promoting the harmonization of health measures being introduced around the world’s airports to facilitate the restart of aviation.

As the situation progresses, we will continue to listen to our members and collect valuable feedback. We are currently in the process of evaluating certain product enhancements and developing the second version of the programme to meet the needs of our members

The silver lining

One thing that has not changed during the crisis is people’s passion for adventure and appetite for international travel.

According to Expedia’s annual Vacation Deprivation study, 66% of people worldwide have been inspired to create a travel ‘bucket list’, and the longer the pandemic has waged on, the longer the lists have become. This year’s findings point to yet another shift – the majority of Canadians, 83% to be exact, said that they now value vacations more than ever before, which comes in slightly higher than the global average of 81%.

The new normal for travel will bring many changes which in turn will require flexibility and adaptability from our industry. Now is the opportunity for airports to listen to their passengers to better understand their needs in order to redesign the end-to-end passenger journey and better prepare for the future.   


Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Director General, ACI World
Luis Felipe joined ACI World as Director General in June 2020 bringing with him vast experience in commercial and technical aviation. He successfully led the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) between October 2017 and May 2020, promoting positive change in the organization. Prior to joining ALTA, Luis Felipe served as World Fuel Services’ Vice President Supply Development for Latin America and Caribbean where he was responsible for improving World Fuel’s aviation fuel business in the region. He is a Chemical Engineer and graduated from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and has a postgraduate qualification in Finance from the University of São Paulo, an MBA from Dom Cabral Foundation in São Paulo, and Post MBA from Kellogg University in Chicago.
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