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2025: Air travel for a digital age

Within 10 years, the majority of the global population will be post-digital generations. They want to manage their own travel experience interacting with online technology.

By 2021, API platforms facilitating access for development and open data sharing are projected to be commonplace By 2025, 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 79% of airlines expect to be providing location-based services by 2021

A SITA report

We are in the midst of a significant demographic shift from a pre-digital to a post-digital age. Within 10 years, the majority of the global population will be post-digital generations – those that have grown up interacting with online technology and using it as a way to manage their lives. These post-digital individuals use their mobile devices as a “remote control for life” and depend on artificial intelligence to help them make decisions and take actions.

In fact, 83% of airport and airline IT leaders surveyed by SITA (attended SITA Innovation Forum in June 2019) believe that this demographic shift will be the most important influence on their digital strategy by 2025.

However, a growing percentage of the traveling public are post-digital travelers are from the post-digital generation, born from 1981 onwards (Millennials or Generation Y, Generation Z). Increasingly these digital travelers are more likely to have been exposed to computers, tablets and smart devices during their upbringing and education. It is second nature for them to exchange texts, video, and voice messages. They are happy to test and try online services and to engage with the latest interfaces such as voice.

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Crucially, by 2025 this post-digital generation will comprise 68% of the global population.

SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2019 reveals that a majority of passengers are demanding more autonomy to manage their trip and more services – particularly mobile – to help them. 

Today at the pre-travel step, 54.5% use technology to checkin, either via a website, their mobile, kiosks or automatic check-in. Technology use at other journey stages continues to grow substantially. The number of passengers who chose to sail through passport control using automated gates or kiosks doubled to 44% in 2018 ( from 21% in 2017)

SITA’s research shows that 59% are ‘very willing’ to use their mobiles for ID verification along the journey, with a further 33% open to the idea.

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Before the trip

Travelers have to juggle the various apps, messages and documentation required at each stage, making planning stressful.

This is an opportunity for airlines, airports and their partners to collaborate to offer more personal and frictionless solutions to ensure the traveler has the right information in their hands.

An example of this in action is Chinese travel app Ctrip, which integrated 10 ride-hailing services across the world within its own interface, allowing users to avoid language barriers, payment limitations and the need to download multiple apps.

SITA’s Air Transport IT Insights 2018 reveals that by 2021, API platforms facilitating access for development and open data sharing are projected to be commonplace, when on average 70% expect to have an API platform for internal use and/or a platform for both internal and external use.


there are indications that some travelers are already using smart voice technology to help them organize their trips. Over a quarter of airlines have already implemented artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot services and another 55% are expected to implement them by 2021. The most common airline virtual assistants and chatbots’ service is to help passengers with FAQs and flight status information. For example, in January 2019, AirAsia’s mobile app and website facelift included an AI-powered chatbot on the live chat feature that can respond to passenger queries instantly in eight languages. Additionally, iPhone users can ask Siri about the status of their upcoming AirAsia flight.

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At the Airport

By 2025, digital IDs are expected to proliferate and 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.

At passport control, those travelers who sailed through self-scanning gates reported the greatest satisfaction – 3.85% higher than those who had their ID checked by a human agent.

Tech-enabled passengers are more willing to make use of extra services at the airport. Today, 86% of passengers consume a mix of free and paid-for services, at dwell time and onboard. However, tech-enabled customers consume more of these services, spending 1.5 times more at the airport and 2.5 times extra onboard.

Airlines and airports are working to provide travelers with a less stressful path through the airport deploying more automation, such as e-gates, and by using biometric identification to avoid or reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly provide their travel documents at checkpoints.

By 2021, over 70% of airlines have investments planned for biometric ID solutions, albeit mostly pilots, and almost half of airports are planning secure single tokens for all touchpoints.

As provision of self-services matures, the next focus will be self-boarding. This is the physical point where airport and airline environments and processes overlap, which is an opportunity to collaborate on improving the experience. By 2021, the majority of airlines expect to have implemented self-boarding gates using biometrics – with or without ID documentation – as well as airport planning to invest in ID management solutions at self-boarding gates.

Today’s secure biometric travel tokens are valid for one journey through one airport. However, a key focus for the industry is to take biometric recognition beyond a single airport to a seamless experience across borders and airports. The ambition is to adopt a single, persistent digital identity that is secure, recognized globally and, most importantly, allows the passenger to maintain control over that identity.

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On Board

While onboard cellular connectivity will take on greater importance, a multi-network approach, offering passengers both Wi-Fi and mobile network technologies is likely to become the norm. This is evidenced by SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2019, which revealed that 90% of airlines are planning to invest in wireless broadband services for passengers over the next three years to 2021.

SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2019 revealed that while 42% of passengers will connect to Wi-Fi on a flight and 35% to inflight cellular services, these figures fall to 12% and 14% respectively when removing the option of free connections.

With ever-increasing data consumption needs on the ground, 4G networks are widely deployed and 5G networks are already starting to go live. Soon, passengers will be able to connect to these high-speed networks in the air.

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At Arrival

Once passengers arrive at their destination, they will be increasingly seeking services that will help them with their onward travel. This includes being reunited with their baggage and organizing their ground transportation. Better integration between airlines, airports and ground handlers, as well as collaboration with travel service partners, will be the key to transforming this experience. 79% of airlines expect to be providing location-based services by 2021.

A key challenge for the industry, over the past decade or more, has been to reduce the cost and impact of mishandled bags. Despite halving the mishandling rate over the last 10 years, from 14.7 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2008 to 5.69 mishandled bags in 2018, the cost to the industry remains significant; not to mention the negative impact it has on passenger experience.

In 2019, SITA’s research showed that where bags were being tracked at check-in and loading, mishandling rates dropped by up to 66%.


Sharing relevant data in a secure and timely manner, as well as reaching agreement on standards and processes, will be critical to ensuring that all stakeholders are doing what is required to deliver optimal passenger services. These initiatives will also enable the air transport community to realize the potential to grow revenues, increase throughput and reduce costs.