At Beyond, we ingest and analyse hundreds of millions of naturally occurring conversations from multiple sources, including social media, news, blogs, forums, reviews & comments.​ Using a combination of natural language processing, text mining and industry expertise, we use this asset to inform decisions around all facets of the customer journey from initial touchpoints to onward customer retention.

In this latest research, we found the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were still fresh in the memory of passengers and, more specifically, the administrative requirements that travellers were tasked with. Travellers are still experiencing deep uncertainty and frustration; however, as more of us take to the skies, the conversation is starting to move away from the pandemic, toward onboard experiences and expectations, with Connectivity and IFE being key differentiators in passenger experience.  

Over the last year, travellers focussed on refund policies, discounted travel, and potential flight cancellations – moving forward there is an increasing focus on cabin amenities, atmosphere, and service delivery. Sustainability and an overall sense of Calm have become key trends as we emerge from a period of uncertainty and reduced travel, with Sanitation and Cleanliness becoming less of a focus. As travel reasserts itself as a necessity, as well as luxury, we must look beneath the surface headlines and analyse conversations around passenger expectations – how to uncover them, and how to exceed them.

Customer expectations  

Conversation volume and sentiment strongly suggest travellers have now come to expect connectivity of some level to be available on board most aircraft. Here we have seen that having no Wi-Fi on board is the second most discussed topic in the sector (behind Free Wi-Fi) with a negative sentiment of -45.77% (contributing to -6.82% overall negativity).  Multiple instances show that discussions around difficulties with, or disappointment in, inflight connectivity could soon outweigh total positive conversations about inflight Wi-Fi. However, all mentions of slow, intermittent, or unreliable Wi-Fi do not amount to the same contribution to negative sentiment as the absence of inflight Wi-Fi altogether.  

It is worth noting that, even given a best-case scenario with a promise of Free, Fast and Unlimited Wi-Fi (which provides +1.8% to overall sentiment), any positivity gained can soon be eroded by the cumulative negative sentiment (-1.77%) caused by disappointment in an inferior product.  Even though topics which gain negative sentiment can often appear in fewer conversations, the strength of the sentiment can be more profound with Wi-Fi Not Working or Slow Wi-Fi showing a -29% and -50% negative sentiment respectively. As load factors increase post-pandemic, it is also worth considering that strains on bandwidth on board could see these negative experiences affecting more and more travellers.

With many carriers now offering free connectivity services, investment in inflight Wi-Fi, and the boost to customer sentiment that it brings, must be offset against the cost of installation, maintenance as well as increased fuel burn. As some airlines invest in better, faster Wi-Fi, as well as 4G mobile networks, the sentiment around connectivity should increase, but airlines must be wary that customer expectations will increase in parallel.  Our data suggests that customers are happy to pay for a robust product but may need some convincing with many airlines offering Incentives to connect, such as exclusive content or loyalty benefits.  

Alongside these expectations for connectedness when we fly, travellers are negotiating their desire for productivity and connectivity with relaxation, calm and indulgence, meaning that getting online needs to be a smooth and stress-free pursuit. Bearing all this in mind, some customers even still relish the opportunity to ‘switch off’ altogether.  

As increasing customer numbers embrace new tech on board, key strategists in airline investment are being asked the same question; Do your customers prefer a Seatback or Streaming?

We posed the question; with travellers expecting and embracing inflight connectivity, are they ready to move away from traditional IFE offerings and finally give up the seatback screen?  Well, the data suggests that the seat back screen – a fixture which has permeated all cabins in most sectors since the early 90s looks as if it’s here to stay.  The association particularly with long-haul and the latest blockbusters is strong, with IFE content managers still seeking to secure the latest high-grossing releases. Customer conversations around IFE are overwhelmingly positive, with Series Available and New Movies being key drivers. We are seeing increasing quality and stability in onboard systems, therefore there is little to no conversation around disappointment in product or service disruption – unlike within conversations around connectivity

The installation and maintenance cost of IFE hardware, around $10, 000 per screen, is under constant scrutiny by the airline industry – with many Low-Cost Carriers opting for lower-cost streaming services, rather than costly fixed IFE solutions, even if they aren’t offering in-seat power. Post-pandemic, however, we are seeing multiple Full-Service Carriers enhancing and upgrading their onboard fixed IFE systems, with many investing in products that are being delivered from 2024 and beyond. The intersection between technology, calm and indulgence is driving an appetite for new forms of content, creating a need for entertainment with wellness, relaxation, and sustainability at its core.  

Which approach is winning customers over?  

By using our dataset to compare carriers’ net sentiment contribution we can see which airline is outperforming their competitors and the wider market.

It may be tempting to accept the conversations around Free Wi-Fi as the main driver of positive sentiment in the sector, however, we can see that the Airline which disproportionately lifts the overall positive sentiment offers a breadth of connectivity choices.  Contributing around 1.80% to the overall positive connectivity sentiment. The leading airline has free Wi-Fi offered as a loyalty reward, and tiered connectivity offered to those willing to pay. This carrier communicates clearly that streaming services and certain syncing capabilities are restricted to allow the best connection for everyone on board.

The carrier contributing disproportionate negative sentiment in the IFE sector is a global carrier that is offering inflight streaming services to your device. This implementation is not currently driving them towards positive customer conversations. This may improve in line with onboard connectivity enhancements - but it is worth noting that the overall contribution to positive sentiment toward onboard connectivity (+1.95%) is far outstripped by the positive reaction to IFE at +4.41%

Based on the global consumer conversations we can advise which trends are emerging, which subjects are generating discussion and which onboard services are resonating with your passengers.  

With regards to connectivity, Wi-Fi is anticipated, and passengers are discerning about its quality. Carriers must be explicit about the capabilities or limitations of onboard connectivity with communication being clear and UX for sign-up & sign-in being as seamless as possible. Crucially, ensuring a reliable connection, with equally distributed bandwidth, is essential to avoid attrition of any gains made by introducing new products. Offering free Wi-Fi does drive positive sentiment, but it is by no means a clear-cut path to satisfied customers, with carriers who offer a tiered, paid-for service driving just as much, if not more, positivity.

It also emerges that travellers are still excited about what is showing on board. Building on top trending topics of Sustainability and Calm, content around wellness and corporate social responsibility is gaining popularity and can noticeably affect engagement with your brand.

Though picture and sound quality drive positive conversations, such topics are outstripped by the latest content and a continually changing catalogue. Investing in content management seems more impactful than installing new systems yet enabling streaming and ‘own device’ viewing should be encouraged as supplementary to, rather than in replacement of, traditional offerings.