New Survey Shows Ups and Downs of Air Travel

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Global market research firm Synovate recently conducted a study with more than 10,000 people in 13 markets across the world to find out how they feel about air travel. The survey asked them if air travel causes more pleasure or pain, the impact of fuel costs and surcharges on their travel plans, their frustrations on sitting near other people's children and how they feel about chatty fellow passengers.

The whole travel process has to be efficient or people start to reconsider whether the trip is even worth it - not a mindset the airlines want to encourage

Leading global market research firm Synovate has released global survey results on air travel showing that, with the current economic environment and increased travel costs, 38% of Americans say they will look for cheaper flights when travelling and 20% think they will end up travelling less. Another 17% have decided to put their travel plans on hold while 16% will consider alternative modes of transport for their travel.

Synovate spoke with more than 10,000 people in 13 markets across the world, including the US, to find out whether air travel is causing pleasure or pain, the impact of fuel costs and surcharges, the frustrations of sitting near other people's children and chatty fellow passengers.

Synovate quizzed people who have travelled by air about the one thing they best liked about being on a plane. For the majority, not surprisingly, it's all about getting from point A to point B, with 56% choosing 'It's fast and it gets me where I need to be quickly' as the thing they most like about air travel. This was highest among people in the US, with 84% of respondents agreeing.

Sheri Lambert, Senior Vice President of Travel & Leisure research for Synovate, said it's absolutely critical for air travel to be convenient.

"Air travel in the US is largely transactional. It's about getting where you are going with as little fuss as possible. This is mainly because the scale of the American air system is enormous and so many people travel for work or business that it's nearly as common as taking a bus.

"The whole travel process has to be efficient or people start to reconsider whether the trip is even worth it - not a mindset the airlines want to encourage," she said.

The seat of power

Much of what the survey highlighted was that the seat is the 'make or break' factor when it comes to flying pleasure or pain. Forty-one percent of people globally and 33% of Americans say they are 'really fussy about my seat and a bad one can ruin my flight experience'.

About one quarter of Americans say they'd pay extra for their seat of choice while a massive 87% agreed they would appreciate a seat swap if they were less than thrilled with where they had to park their posteriors.

Lambert said this could be bedlam for the airlines. "It's one thing to not like your seat when you are on a short 45-minute flight. Most of us can deal with that. But it's entirely another thing when you are cramped and miserable travelling across the country or even farther.

"In an ideal world, travellers would always get to select their first choice seat prior to departure. That is tough though, especially given current flight loads.

"While large-scale programmes like this are challenging, it does point to the role of options for passengers such as choosing seats ahead of departure and informative websites like

"Indeed, some US carriers have experimented with seat surcharges for those who prefer certain placements, but the jury is still out on this one," Lambert said.

Plane and seat design are critical to passenger satisfaction. Sixty-three percent of air travellers globally and 59% in the US say they prefer window seats, making it tricky to keep everyone happy!

Up in the air about intimacy

Very much related to the seat issue is who you sit next to - the 'forced' intimacy in sharing space with strangers.

Overall, a little over one third (34%) of respondents globally agreed that they prefer to sit next to someone of their own sex. This was highest among Hong Kongers at 65%, but quite low among Americans with only 19% of respondents saying they prefer a same sex seatmate.

When this is broken down by gender, women are far more likely to answer in the affirmative than men. Forty-four percent of all women travellers globally say they want to sit next to someone of their own gender, while only 24% of men do. In the US, 26% of women prefer to sit next to another woman.

And not everyone avoids social contact. The study asked respondents if they agreed with the statement 'I enjoy making conversation with the people sitting next to me' and, overall, 57% agreed. People from Malaysia and the Philippines most enjoy talking (77% and 74% respectively agreed) while those from Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong do not. Almost two-thirds (63%) of Americans say they're up for a chat.

Children shouldn't be seen, or heard

It turns out not everyone hates sitting near children. In good news for paranoid parents, only one third of respondents globally agreed with the statement 'I get frustrated when sitting next to or near children'.

Britons were the most intolerant of sitting near the smallest travellers, with 55% agreeing that they get frustrated, followed closely by Hong Kongers (52%) and Americans (45%). Least likely to be frustrated by child passengers are German travellers at only 15% as well as those from Malaysia and Taiwan, at 19% each.

About the Synovate global air travel survey

This survey looked at air travel and covered more than 10,000 respondents in 13 markets around the world - Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the US. The study was conducted in July 2008 using online, telephone and face-to-face methodologies. For more information on the survey findings visit

About Synovate

Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates consumer insights that drive competitive marketing solutions. The network provides clients with cohesive global support and a comprehensive suite of research solutions. Synovate employs over 6,000 staff across 62 countries. More information on Synovate can be found at


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