What do passengers really think about AI and technology?
Like many other industries, aviation has seen a rapid take-up in artificial intelligence (AI) and technology in recent years. It has played a significant role in rebooting aviation in the wake of the pandemic, tying over companies suffering from staff shortages, and pushing for an enhanced passenger experience.
Accenture defines AI as:
“A constellation of many different technologies working together to enable machines to sense, comprehend, act, and learn with human-like levels of intelligence.”
From an industry perspective, technology is the solution to many problems. For this reason, much of the discussion at last month’s World Aviation Festival explored the uses, problems, benefits, and future applications of technology. Watch the interview with Michael Tan CCO Scarabee Aviation Group – “Technology at heart” and Keynote innovation panel – “Aviation tech innovation going into 2023 – time for a new mindset?”
A lot of time is dedicated to the businesses’ experience with AI and technology. But what do the passengers think?
The public perspective
In a study conducted for the World Economic Forum surveying opinions of technology (not limited to the aviation context), information on attitudes towards AI was gathered from 28 countries around the world.
The results demonstrated a belief that AI was prolific and transformative with 60 per-cent of adults surveyed saying they expect products and services using AI to profoundly change their daily life in the next 3-5 years. However, interestingly only 50 per-cent of respondents said they trust companies that use AI as much as they trust other companies.
Looking at this issue at a geographic level, the countries with the highest trust in companies using AI were China (76 per-cent), Saudi Arabia (73 per-cent), and India (68 per-cent). On the other hand, countries in the Western world demonstrate considerably lower levels of trust for companies using AI. This is exhibited in the responses from Canada (34 per-cent), France (34 per-cent), the United States (35 per-cent), Great Britain (35 per-cent), and Australia (36 per-cent).
Although it is interesting to see geographical patterns in the results, the important takeaway is AI can spark doubts around trust.
One area that has brought this into the public discourse is the use of biometrics in airports. A key concern voiced in this discussion has surrounded data. With a diverse spectrum of opinions regarding data usage and storage, the introduction of biometrics has served as a useful insight into public opinion on the growing presence of AI and technology in an airport context.
The passenger perspective
Narrowing the discussion to AI and technology in the aviation context, one research paper looked at the ‘Segmentation of passenger preferences for using digital technologies at airports in Norway’ 2021. Although the paper focused on Norway, the findings are indicative of broader responses to technology in airports.
The research found that:
“A large proportion of passengers now want more control over their journey with automated and/or more personalised options. Specific examples are the interest in mobile-based boarding passes, payments and services; digital bag tags; and the use of biometrics and other technologies at security.”
“The findings also highlight the considerable diversity in passenger preferences and opinions regarding digital technology adoption. Specifically, there remains a small yet significant group of passengers more reticent to adopting digital technologies as part of their journey.”
Based on this research, the paper suggested offering a manual or human-assisted service option in parallel to technology intensive solutions so as to ensure meeting the expectations of a wider range of passengers.
Many airports already offer both options while they are introducing an increasingly extensive range of technology and AI driven systems. However, as airports pursue the ultimate seamless journey where passengers can keep their hands in their pockets from start to finish, these “manual” alternatives may slowly be phased out.
As technology and AI becomes increasingly entangled with the future of travel, the industry must take caution to remember those passengers who harbour a distrust for AI, struggle engaging with technology, or simply prefer interacting with a human.
The upcoming Aviation Festival Asia in early 2023 has a strong focus on technology and AI, promising to explore airport technology, the industry’s digital transformation and ambitions and more.
Article by Jess Brownlow