Does Technology Change Americans’ Travel Options For Better or For Worse?

Research Reveals Attitudes Toward Using Technology Before and During Travel, but What are the Consequences?


A recent study by Synovate finds that many Americans prefer to use technology when booking air travel and accommodations, but when it comes to using technology in transit, the general public is not seeking to use their cell phones while flying the friendly skies.
Over the past several years, airlines have used a number of methods to direct prospective travelers to their Websites to book air tickets. Many airlines charge an extra fee for booking travel over the phone or at a reservations desk. It appears this strategy is working. Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans who travel prefer to use an airline’s Website to all other booking methods according to the study. Online travel agencies, such as Expedia and Travelocity, are preferred by 29 percent of travelers. Only 13 percent of travelers prefer to book air travel with traditional, offline travel agencies. About one in ten travelers (11 percent) prefer to use an airline’s reservations call center.

“This is a huge shift from a few years ago. In the past, we saw a lot of travelers shopping online but when it came to booking they called the airlines directly,” said Sheri Lambert, Synovate’s Sector Head of Travel and Leisure. “Americans are now more comfortable purchasing all sorts of items online—including air travel.”

Yet the results show some differences in preferences between different age groups. Young travelers (ages 18-24) are as likely to prefer online travel agencies (43 percent), as they are to prefer airline Websites (41 percent) to book air tickets. Also, young travelers are much more likely to prefer using online travel agencies compared to travelers ages 25-44 (33 percent) and travelers over 45 (24 percent).

“We also will continue to see a huge impact on the travel agent profession,” commented Lambert. “What people can do easily, for a cheaper price and oftentimes with more convenience, they are going to do. Consumers’ use of the Internet combined with the airlines no longer paying commissions to travel agencies will continue to cause the travel agent profession to decline over the next decade, and be completely marginalized within the air travel industry.”

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While American travelers may prefer to utilize technology to book air travel, the majority of Americans do not want the technology coming into the cabin.

Currently, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations prohibit the use of personal electronic devices, including cell phones, while an aircraft is in flight. A current issue being disputed by the FAA is whether or not to allow cell phones on commercial U.S. flights. The same Synovate poll shows that, in general, six in ten American adults (62 percent) are not in favor of allowing in-flight use of cell phones. Yet the poll also shows that the generations are split on this issue. Half (51 percent) of young adults age 18-24 would like to be able to use cell phones while in the air. This compares to 44 percent among those age 25-44 and only 32 percent among those over 45.

“The issue of using cell phones while on a commercial flight brings up two distinct schools of thought,” said Lambert. “Some people are looking for the convenience of being able to make calls while they are in flight, while others are not looking forward to the disturbance it will cause those that involuntarily will be listening to their conversations. Then, we have the fact that the public has been told that electronic devices can interfere with the plane’s internal technology systems. Many Americans do not want to jeopardize their safety, no matter how slim the chance.”

These results are based on Synovate’s Travel eGage(R) survey of 10,000 American adults conducted August 10 to 13, 2005.
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