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For airline and airport executives, the emergence of a new generation of tech-savvy digital travelers is likely to have the biggest impact on their digital plans in the next few years.  It’s a pressing business imperative that should be high on the IT agenda of any forward-looking organization and a trend the industry ignores at its peril.

In a newly released paper ‘2025: Air Travel for a Digital Age’, SITA’s research shows that these new digital travelers are growing in number and demand to use technology when they travel in the same way they do in every other part of their lives. They want much more control of their journey.

The high expectations of tech-fluent flyers

These digital travelers have grown up interacting with online technology and they already use technology – mobile in particular -- to manage every aspect of their lives. They’ll fully expect information, in real-time, at their fingertips, constantly.

The impact of this demographic shift and the associated expectations will be felt in two major ways. These travelers are demanding more automation and hands-on control over each step of their journey. In particular, they expect to use their mobile phone to access services ranging from baggage, to boarding and payments. They also expect their trip to be delivered as a single, unified experience across airports, airlines, border control and other modes of transport – from the moment they leave home to when they arrive at their destination. 

Benefits of going digital

SITA’s Passenger IT Insights research already shows us that an informed passenger is a much happier passenger. So, as we prepare for post-digitalization, we need to make sure we bring together the technologies that are going to satisfy the requirements of a new breed of traveler, one that’s more technology sophisticated than we’ve ever encountered.

We must remove today’s fragmentation

Fundamental to meeting these demands is a requirement for more efficient operations and collaboration between the airlines, airports and other stakeholders responsible for delivering that new passenger experience. Without it, we will not be able to deliver the journey digital travelers demand.

Think about pre-travel alone. As the paper says, today’s travelers are expected to bring the strands together themselves – such as visas, hotels, flights, and ground transportation – using separate apps, messages and documentation. It makes planning stressful. It’s all too obvious to me that in the future we’ll need to enable far better collaboration to tackle the problems of fragmentation.

Biometrics is key

Biometric technology is one of the key answers to delivering more automation as well as smoothly linking up each step in the journey.

For both digital and post-digital passengers, the possibilities and potential positive impact of digital IDs on the seamless ‘walkthrough’ journey experience are truly exciting. When I imagine this airport experience, I think of Amazon Go and its ‘Just Walk Out’ shopping experience, where shoppers are immediately recognized.  I also think of the movie ‘Minority Report’, where Tom Cruise walks through an airport totally unimpeded by barriers, gates and queues, but biometrically tracked at every step.  Biometrics solutions can deliver that experience.

Digital IDs ‘to soar’

We’re definitely moving in that direction. Juniper Research predicts that the number of people using a government-issued digital ID will soar from an expected 1.7 billion in 2019 to over 5 billion in 2024. And that trend will intensify. To date, the focus has largely been on using biometric identity across a single journey or airport but more and more the industry is shifting its focus to providing a persistent digital identity that can be used across multiple journeys.

Working together

Clearly, we need to work in unison to make this biometric journey happen. That’s why we at SITA have put great emphasis on co-innovation and co-developments with our customers, based on trials and pilots with airlines and airports all over the world.

We’re deploying technology to allow passengers to use their biometric as their passport or boarding pass at each step in the airport. SITA Smart Path™ is in use or has been trialed at a growing number of airports globally, including Brisbane, Hamad International (Doha), Muscat (Oman), Orlando (with British Airways and Lufthansa), Boston (with JetBlue) and Athens. More US, European and Asia Pacific airports are coming on stream.

This kind of collaboration is critical. At the same time, we need to take a long-term global view, so that wherever in the world a traveler may be there’s a consistent digital experience. That’s why we work with those air transport industry bodies and security agencies who are collaborating to find a way forward for airlines and airports the world over, one that will eventually pave the way for one ID for all journeys, with passengers able to maintain control over their identity.

Let’s prepare now for this huge demographic shift

We must plan now for this huge demographic shift. By 2025, the post-digital generation will comprise 64% of the global population. At the same time, the growing number of digital travelers demands more and more attention of airlines and airports globally. So, let’s prepare now. If we in air travel don’t address this demographic trend, as a collaborative community, then we’ll be missing one of the biggest opportunities in our industry.

Learn more about the expectations of the post digital traveler and why executives believe these tech savvy travelers will impact their digital plans up to 2025.
2025: Air travel for a digital age


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Matthys Serfontein Thu, Sep 12, 2019 05:06:00 PM
Thanks for your interesting comments on my recent blog. We know from research that queuing at the airport makes passengers most dissatisfied (see blog) and we know from SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey that passengers are most satisfied where there’s seamless self-service. SITA is continually collaborating with airlines and airports, and also with aircraft manufacturers, to find ways to keep improving the passenger journey and achieving SITA’s vision of easy air travel every step of the way. Passenger flow and queue management solutions, that use real-time and historical data analysis, as well as biometrics, are enabling us to facilitate a seamless and hassle-free customer experience that is quick, efficient and secure and will continue to be a key focus area for us.
Tapio Ahtiainen Sun, Sep 08, 2019 11:58:00 PM
Thank's for a very interesting article. Perhaps this "evolution of passengers" will happen a little bit more slowly, little by little in the future? Technologies like digitalization is one good point, but only if it will really help human beings, here as passengers and travelers. Many apps has been implemented as focus existing on other points than "a smooth traveling", but also some very helpful ones can be found, today. But what will happen in one beautiful day, is that when major of airline customers , namely passengers, realize that Passenger Boarding is still quite "mechanical " or better physical (pax must still walk into tiny tubes, through passenger bridge and cabin, before find and have been seated ) by themselves (if not need PRM SERVICE). In article there was mentioned Biometric as one good example of "good digitalization". But it will not alone solve that un-necessaty queuing problem many airliner's still have in their old fashioned boarding processes. So, when those new requirements of new breed of traveler will be really demanded from service providers, like airliners and their handling agencies, such a slow process like finding / get everyone's seat will not be accepted, anymore. Today it often took half an hour to get boarding completed. Some kind of smoother and quicker ways to pass through, safely and comfortable will be put instead. Also here is a good focus to take new modern digital & other solutions in real use.