The Civil Aviation Authority’s Aviation Consumer Survey, conducted by Savanta, recently found that flyer numbers are back to their pre-Covid levels, with 54% of UK adults surveyed in autumn 2023 having flown in the last 12 months, compared to 57% in autumn 2019.
However, the profile of flyers is quite different to what it was in 2019. Young people aged 18-34 are leading the revival, while older people aged 55+ are less likely to fly now than they were before.
But what is driving these trends, and is there anything airports and airlines can do about it?
Put off by travel challenges
Older people are choosing not to fly for different reasons to younger people.
Budget constraints pose a common obstacle for all age groups when it comes to flying. However, those aged 55+ are notably less likely to identify this as the reason for their recent lack of air travel compared to those aged 18-34 (25% vs. 39%).
For older consumers, the reasons for not flying recently are much more varied.
- ongoing concern about COVID-19
- concern about flight disruption
- health or disability concerns making the airport experience difficult
- airport queues
- general dislike of airports
- a preference for other modes of transport
This suggests that while both demographics are largely constrained by budgets, older people are also concerned about the difficulty and stress of the flying process, and the health risks associated with it.
The reasons for not flying among those aged 55+ are the same as in 2019, so we are not seeing a change in why this group are not flying, but rather a greater proportion of people giving the same reasons.
Satisfaction is dropping faster among older flyers
Older people are no less satisfied with the flying experience than younger people overall, and those aged 55+ are generally more satisfied with the different stages of the flying experience than those aged 18-34.
They are significantly more likely to be satisfied with the booking process, whereas the opposite is true of the airport experience and complaints handling.
However, those aged 55+ have seen a far greater drop in satisfaction since 2019 than their younger counterparts, with overall satisfaction dropping 8 points, compared to just 3 points among 18-34s.
And older respondents have seen their level of satisfaction decline by far more than younger travellers in many areas:
Complaints handling, baggage collection, transfers and the airport experience all rank among the lowest-scoring metrics overall for those aged 55+.
While older people are not reporting an airport experience that is significantly worse in itself than younger people, they are much more likely to perceive an airport experience that has become worse in recent years.
Rebuilding trust and reassurance: addressing concerns of older passengers
Our research presents a clear challenge to the industry. Those older people who haven’t flown recently are often put off by the perceived difficulty and stress of the process, while those who have flown recently are increasingly seeing this difficulty and stress play out. Despite this, it’s important to mention that the majority still report a generally positive travel experience, even in light of disruptions, delays, or cancellations.
Airports and airlines will need to demonstrate to these customers that the air travel experience is safe, supportive and stress-free, particularly targeting pain points like baggage collection and complaints handling.
Those aged 55+ are likely to return to flying only if they are confident things will go to plan.
Our report ‘Cleared for takeoff’ provides insights into how our research supports organisations in the aviation sector, as businesses navigate the complex challenges and long-term impact of COVID-19. Download the document today to gain a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing airports and how Savanta can assist in overcoming them.