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Air travel trends 2022 – deeper engagement with passengers

As flights pick up after the global grounding for much of the past 18 months, it should be no surprise that airlines and their passenger experience partners are making adjustments to meet changing consumer sensibilities. The accelerated digitalisation that helped airlines to support their passengers during the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, it promises to further enhance connections between airlines and their passengers over the comings years.

A key message within the latest research from Mintel, Global Consumer Trends 2022, published in November 2021, is that after lockdown consumers are eager to break out of their confines, to explore and have new experiences. Travel is therefore an opportunity to elevate our lifestyles and consumers will be prepared to splash out on holidays once the pandemic is over. Mintel goes on to say that nearly half of all people from the UK who are planning a trip in the next three years expect to spend more than before the health crisis.

This willingness to spend is in line with Expedia’s findings when it took the temperature of people’s attitudes towards travel in summer 2021. A third had larger budgets compared to 2020 according to the Expedia Traveler Value Index. Furthermore, almost three quarters of people surveyed by Expedia are planning to take a trip in the next 12 months. Around half say new experiences and physical and mental wellness are the top benefits of travel.

Aligning with consumers’ climate goals

However, the upcoming trends are not only about escapism. Faced with the complexity of climate change issues, consumers are looking brands to help them mitigate their impact on the environment. While cautioning that that “environmental anxiety will worsen”, Mintel says the opportunity for brands is “to partner with consumers to help them make purchase choices that align with their climate goals”.

Mintel makes the point that it is no longer enough for brands to be ethical. Consumers are now demanding “measurable, transparent and consistent actions” from the brands they choose to support. Furthermore, people are longing for a sense of control over their lives. They want clear, readily available information, plus flexibility and choices so they can make decisions that will suit their needs.

All this underscores that the getting there is a lifestyle choice as much as being there. This, then, defines the new-model customer. This emerging new normal is already driving initiatives by airlines and their onboard experience partners in the amenity, food and retail sectors.

Close up of an airline seat with a pale blue silicone bag in a slim paper sleeve detailing its re-useability and a cushion.

Image: FORMIA. JetBlue’s amenity pack for its transatlantic service is designed to be endlessly reusable after the flight

The future for amenities

For Roland Grohmann, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner at guest amenity and hospitality specialist FORMIA, the future of amenities is “less focused on the product itself and more about the experience the consumer has with that product, such as after-trip usage, sustainability and collectability.” He adds: “Across airline projects and according to consumer feedback there is a growing requirement for experiences that not only offer aesthetic appeal, but a true mission, vision and values centred around environmental and social sustainability.”

A case in point is the travel kit FORMIA developed for JetBlue’s transatlantic service launched at the end of August 2021. The inflight necessities come in an endlessly reusable durable platinum silicon pouch that is easy-to-clean and microwave, dishwasher and freezer friendly to encourage use beyond the flight, be it for travel essentials or food storage.

Airlines are already leveraging advancements in digitalisation to deepen the conversation with their customers. “With advancements in technology and increased digitalisation across the passenger journey, we foresee changes in the way amenities will be offered to passengers… with personalisation

and choice becoming key to providing a more customised, relevant and sustainable experience,” predicts Grohmann.

Digitalisation will deepen the conversation with passengers

When it comes to onboard food services, the pressure for greater sustainability is focused on reducing catering weight – and therefore stock. However, thanks to the adoption of digital pre-order solutions throughout the pandemic, there is the opportunity to provide passengers with more choice and a better sense of control over their experience.

Benoit Vignon, Vice President of retail onboard development at Newrest, a specialist in out-of-home food services, explains that digital pre-ordering allows airlines to personalise their offer and adapt that offer to passengers’ needs. Vignon views digital solutions as the key to future inflight experiences. “Personalisation of the travel experience through digital means will be a key trend in 2022,” he says.

Travellers on Spanish leisure carrier World2Fly, which began service in Summer 2021, can pre-order food after purchasing their ticket thanks to Newrest Digital Lab’s Fly’Eat system, which is integrated into the airline’s own customer process. The menu provided by Newrest is focused on sustainability, featuring seasonal products and using sustainable packaging and cutlery. Hot meals and cold breakfasts for economy class passengers as well as the optional premium dishes are included in the services.

Behind the scenes, the Fly’Eat system enables pre-ordering, control and order flow management, traceability and interconnection with onboard sales systems through QR code identification. Newrest has since gone on to adapt this solution to a tailor-made VIP catering offer on private aircraft flying out of several European airports.

This personalisation, which today starts with the pre-order menu for catering or retail offers, will continue onboard with passengers able to select from a host of services and paying from their smartphone. “An aircraft is a marketplace like any other. It will be possible to extend the travel experience even at home. Passengers will be able to get their favourite products from food to perfumes directly at home,” Vignon predicts.

Collage of four images: top left, a graphic icon of a small shopping bag on mobile phone which displays the Retail inMotion logo on its screen; top right, the back view of a dark haired man not wearing glasses looking into his mobile phone which displays his face wearing glasses; bottom right, a back view of a dark haired man holding his phone over his bare wrist with the phone screen showing his wrist wearing a watch; bottom left a graphic icon of a bare arm with the outline of a mobile phone framing a watch on the wrist.

Image: Retail inMotion. Eurowings is deploying RiM’s AR shopping app, “Virtual TryOn” on long haul flights to enhance the retail experience for passengers

Onboard experiences that integrate digital ordering with other digital technologies and content platforms are in their infancy at the moment, but they suggest that a much richer, more responsive experience is on the horizon for passengers.

Richer, more responsive experiences

In July 2021, onboard retail and technology specialist Retail inMotion partnered with leisure carrier Eurowings Discover to launch a digital boutique. Brand and product information can also be integrated into the fully-immersive digital inflight magazine, thereby enabling passengers to interact with the content and explore product and brand information via videos.

RiM’s Head of Business Development Europe, Tim Noack says: “Customers demand digital, intuitive and easy-to-use functionalities, but they are also eager to explore digital content in the form of digital magazines or menu cards with integrated videos and animations.”

According to Noack, more innovation is likely in short order. “We expect the digital trends to continue and more innovations to be launched in 2022 such as flexible PreOrder/PreSelect tools, as well as Order2Seat solutions that are combined with smart payment options on passengers’ smartphones and augmented reality solutions (AR) to increase the passenger experience.”

In November 2021RiM launched an AR shopping app, “Virtual TryOn”, on Eurowings long haul flights that enables passengers to try on products virtually from the on-board boutique selection, with sunglasses and watches included in the AR range. RiM says the tool reduces the physical touchpoints between passengers, crew, and retail products allowing passengers and products to be connected in a way never seen before.

Noack predicts: “We could imagine that topics such as digital innovations along the passenger journey will become more and more important. AR solutions, for example, are able to provide the look and feeling of services and products in advance.”

2022 is likely to be a transitional year for the aviation industry as it comes to terms withe the many changes that are affecting the business. The solutions talked about here may not add up to a revolution in themselves, but form part of a movement towards engaging with customers as partners in the future of the aviation business.


Featured image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The original version of this article was published on the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services content hub on 8 December 2021. This version was updated on 20 December 2021.

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