International travel is up 8 percentage points this year. (Photo: WBeem/Flickr)
More people are flying than they did last year, and uncomfortable seats are their biggest complaint, according to TripAdvisor’s sixth annual air travel survey, released Thursday. A group of 4,300 weighed in on everything from mobile check-ins and crying children to technology and seat comfort.
Whether happy or unhappy with travel experiences, the report shows more people taking to the skies, with 93% planning flights in 2014, an increase from the 89% who said they flew domestically last year. This was also reflected in international air travel, up to 63% from 2013’s 55%.
With all this airtime being racked up, travelers have homed in on what makes or breaks a trip. The pre-flight experience factored into the top five biggest air-travel improvements seen over the past five years. On the list:
More streamlined check-in process – 38%
Easier booking – 36%
More streamlined security process – 32%
More streamlined boarding process – 28%
Better in-flight entertainment options – 25%
“The top four all have to do with before you get on the plane versus once you’re on, which shows there hasn’t been a lot of improvement with the actual in-flight experience,” TripAdvisor travel advocate Wendy Perrin told Yahoo Travel.
Satisfaction with check-in is up in 2014 (Photo: Jetstar Airways/Flickr)
Pre-flight factors are a high priority for Los Angeles International Airport’s ongoing $7 billion modernization.
“Airports themselves have very few ways to make traveling less stressful,” Amanda Parsons, a spokesperson for LAX, told Yahoo Travel. “How LAX is trying to make those experiences a bit better is by adding more TSA screening lanes to reduce length of lines and providing easier check-in processes to alleviate the line to get boarding passes. Once inside terminals, LAX is looking to provide as many electric outlets as possible, as well as having free WiFi.”
Woman checking her cellphone pre-flight (Photo: Getty Images)
Increased mobile access also stood out in the survey. Using cell phones to research flights increased to 48% from last year’s 36%. Sixty-nine percent of respondents use cell phones to check flight status, up from last year’s 56%. Mobile check-ins are also in the rise, up to 55% from 2013’s 38%.
Where 81% of travelers don’t want to see cell phones is during the flight. Respondents were markedly opposed to the FAA allowing in-flight use of mobile phones. The convenience of in-flight WiFi was not high on the improvement list, with 90% saying they rarely purchase the service.
As for top complaints, lack of comfort – an ongoing issue – remains at the top of the list:
Uncomfortable seats / limited legroom – 73%
Costly airline fees and ticket prices – 66%
Unpredictable flight delays – 45%
Long security lines – 35%
Loud / crying children – 32%
“It’s not so surprising uncomfortable seats are the biggest pain point,” Perrin said. “What was interesting was that that kind of physical confinement is considered even worse than things like costly ticket prices and unpredictable flight delays.”
The crowded seats of an airplane (Photo: Kevin Morris/Flickr)
Adding to the lack of comfort was another subject of the survey: the airline industry’s recent introduction of “Slim-Line” seats. Only 32% of those surveyed had tried the seats. Their reactions were decidedly anti-slim-line, with 65% considering them less comfortable than traditional airline seats. Twenty-eight percent said they couldn’t tell a difference, whereas 7% found them more comfortable than traditional airline seats.
When asked what would improve their flights, travelers pegged more legroom at 35%, followed by more comfortable seats at 32%. What 42% said they’d be willing to do – pay extra to sit in a child-free section. Taking travel ease into their own hands, respondents reported equipping their carry-ons with vital items like reading materials (77%), medication (53%), iPads/tablets (52%), snacks (49%) and hand sanitizer (31%).
What Perrin took away from the 2014 TripAdvisor air travel survey: “Even though so many people are turned off by uncomfortable seats and limited legroom, and even though the biggest travel improvements haven’t been made in-flight, the fact is, so many people want to travel. Not only are more traveling domestically, but 8% more plan to fly internationally on long-haul flights in cramped seats. I find this desire to travel, despite these factors, heartening.”