America THINKS: Making Air Travel Fun Again

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HNTB's latest America THINKS survey takes a look at how airports are evolving and what changes would please more travelers

Stressful screenings

According to a survey from HNTB Corporation, more than 4 in 10 Americans say air travel is stressful (44 percent).

"However, our research shows design changes ... are having a positive impact, and the future should be a bright one."

According to a new America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation, modern air travel can recapture its glamour and appeal by incorporating new technology and better amenities into passengers' everyday experience.

"For many Americans, air travel has lost its spark," said Tom Rossbach, AIA, ACI, director of aviation architecture for HNTB. "Many feel that air travel is not an exciting part of a journey; it's a means to an end." Nearly half of Americans think this type of transportation is stressful (44 percent) or frustrating (41 percent) and close to one-third say it's exhausting (32 percent). Far fewer feel air travel is fun (18 percent) or relaxing (7 percent).

Displeasure with long lines inside the terminal and on the tarmac, security checkpoints and limited food choices often have been typical reasons millions express dislike when flying.

"However, our research shows design changes, both landside and airside, being made at many airports are having a positive impact, and the future should be a bright one," said Rossbach.

One heartening finding: almost half of Americans (46 percent) think terminal amenities, such as shops, food options and entertainment, have generally improved in the last 10 years.

Some airports already are on the right track with meeting these demands: 88 percent of Americans who've been to an airport in the last decade have noticed upgrades. Nearly half (55 percent) of these people have seen improved availability of self check-in options, and 43 percent say that the dreaded security checkpoints have gotten better.

"The model of how passengers and airlines use airport terminals is in the midst of a significant shift," said Rossbach.

Screening inefficiencies make for unhappy flyers

Yet many flyers don’t believe that the enormous efforts the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration undertake to keep passengers safe are doing much good. Less than 1 in 4 (22 percent) Americans think that the security screening process for airline passengers is effective, and even fewer think it’s efficient (11 percent).

This must-do activity for air travelers is far from enjoyable for millions. Almost 2 in 5 (39 percent) feel the security screening process is frustrating and 27 percent find it invasive. More men than women feel that the security screening routine is frustrating (45 percent versus 34 percent) and obtrusive (31 percent versus 23 percent).

Future travel mobility

We have GPS in our cars and on our phones, why not on our luggage? Delta's recently announced mobile baggage tracking app should please more than a quarter (26 percent) of Americans who would most like to see paper baggage tags replaced with electronic GPS tags over the next decade.

And, when it comes to air traffic control, a majority (53 percent) of Americans would feel safer in a plane guided by "NextGen" GPS technology rather than the current radar-based system.

Room for improvement

More generally speaking, more than 1 in 4 (28 percent) Americans have concerns about the lack of efficiency in the design of airports' operational areas, such as parking garages, internal transportation and security checkpoints.

With this in mind, many point fingers to areas that need immediate help. Nearly 1 in 5 (16 percent) Americans think the most important aspect of airports to improve right now, aside from security checkpoint efficiency, is the drop-off and pick-up curbs.

Some would most like to see upgrades they can take advantage of while waiting to take off. Twelve percent name departure gate lounges as that in most need of immediate improvements, and 10 percent think there should be more quiet spots in the airport so they can chat or work.

Saving time checking in and changing the game

While more than half (56 percent) of Americans who plan to travel via airplane in the next year are likely to use an airline agent to check in for a flight rather than using a self-service kiosk, Rossbach said such technology-based solutions are likely to change air travel – and airports themselves – in the future.

In fact, if a self-check kiosk means saving time, most Americans (76 percent) would prefer to use it over an airline agent.

"Much as we've seen banking evolve from tellers, to ATMs to online self-transactions, we're seeing a transition to more do-it-yourself options for airline travelers too," said Rossbach. "This is particularly meaningful for frequent travelers who have seen the time they spend in other airport activities, most notably security checkpoints, increase."

The first self bag check-in program was implemented at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and it reduced passenger queuing and processing time by 60 percent. HNTB currently is planning and designing similar self-serve bag check-in systems as part of terminal projects in San Diego and Denver.

About the survey

HNTB's America THINKS national aviation survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans Nov. 21-28, 2011. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

About HNTB

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving public and private owners and contractors. With nearly a century of service, HNTB understands the life cycle of infrastructure and solves clients' most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide deliver a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program delivery and construction management. For more information, visit http://www.hntb.com.

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