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Marisa Garcia
October 26, 2017

As most passengers already know, when it comes to air travel, there is a lot of room for improvement.

This week the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shared the results of its annual Global Passenger Survey, which informs the decisions made by airlines, airports, and governments to make flying less of a hassle.

With feedback from 10,675 travelers in more than 152 countries, the survey helps identify what IATA describes as the “pain points” of travel — the things that travelers are least happy about that need attention. It also identifies what passengers like, including preferences for in-flight entertainment, Wi-Fi, and service onboard the plane.

Related: Why Passports Only Come in Four Colors

Passengers’ top priorities in this year's report? Getting on the plane faster and having the entire flying experience be less of a hassle.

Travelers also want to feel more in control of the whole process. They have been quick to adopt the digital solutions that airlines and airports have introduced, from digital boarding passes on smartphones to automated border control gates to biometric identity verification.

This year's survey found passengers in Latin America were most satisfied with air travel, with 59 percent of those surveyed saying they were happy with their experience. In North America, 56 percent of travelers surveyed were happy, the same percentage as travelers in North Asia. Travelers in Africa were least happy with air travel: Only 40 percent described themselves as satisfied.

What passengers want on the ground

A whopping 82 percent of passengers surveyed said that, if they could, they would use a digital passport on their smartphone instead of relying on a regular paper passport. Sixty-four percent said that biometric identification would be their preferred traveling token, helping identify them throughout the journey from check-in to boarding and beyond.

Seventy-two percent said they preferred self-boarding gates, and 33 percent would rather board the plane using biometric recognition.

It's not just boarding that passengers think is too slow, as 78 percent of respondents said they don’t want to wait more than three minutes to drop off their bags, and 49 percent said they would rather drop off their bags themselves using automated machines at the airport.

The security screening process continues to be a pain point for most passengers: Sixty percent said that they don’t like having to remove their shoes, belts, and jackets, and 52 percent said they would rather not have to remove electronic devices from their carry-on bags.

Related: What Travelers Need to Know About New TSA Security Measures

In regions where airlines and airports have introduced new travel technology platforms, the results prove that passengers flock to these solutions.

About 71 percent of travelers in North America have used automated immigration gates, for example, and 90 percent of those who used them say they liked them and would use them again.

What passengers like on the plane

On long-haul flights, most travelers (69 percent) would like to spend time watching movies or television, 58% would like to get some sleep, and 40 percent enjoy eating and drinking onboard.

Survey participants were closely split on a preference between seat-back in-flight entertainment (46 percent) provided by airlines or watching entertainment on their own personal electronic devices (42 percent). There was a definite call for more in-flight Wi-Fi on planes.

What's next

During the IATA World Passenger Conference in Barcelona, where the airlines association published the results, Travel + Leisure met with Fréderic Leger of IATA to discuss how the survey results drive change in the industry.

“We use it to inform our industry initiatives,” he said. “We diffuse [the GPS results] into our industry groups to better understand the rationale of the issues and come up with solutions. From that discussion with the industry, we develop our standards and our initiatives.”

This information has already helped push the adoption of some of the technology platforms passengers prefer, but there are challenges for IATA to overcome before all of the pain points are eliminated.

IATA industry working groups include airports and government representatives, but each of those have their own priorities. Sometimes getting consensus of how best to resolve a problem can get tricky and political.

“Where we tend to see better results are in the things that airlines control,” Leger said. “Where it’s more difficult is where you have to work with other stakeholders, like security or border control. We still measure it, but our role becomes one of advocacy, to say that customers are telling us that it’s still a pain point.

“The issue becomes whether everyone has a business case for it. Airports are closely related to us, and committed to working on these solutions,” he said. “Governments sometimes don’t have the same imperatives, because there are other concerns. This is why fixing the issues can take a bit longer, but we do share the data to show how important it is to passengers.”

We’ve all seen the effects of this back and forth, including with ongoing changes to security procedures as governments try to stay ahead of security threats.

Despite this, some advances are taking off.

“We have digitized the existing process, the booking the check-in, the boarding, but I don’t think that we have reshaped the overall process,” Leger said. “The next step is to look at the process from a blank page and come up with a new process.”

Airlines benefit from cutting travel time wasters too. Some steps are redundant and just add costs. Others delay service, which also costs airlines money.

“Airlines are trying to remove steps that are no longer necessary. Technology delivers that,” Leger said. “What we’ve seen in the industry is that there is one airline that leads the pack on a solution and the others follow very, very quickly.”

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