Industry Update
Press Release20 October 2020

Study: In Era of COVID-19, Airlines and Airports Must Do More to Accommodate Stressed-Out Passengers

Personalized Profiles, Encouraging Messages Would Help Travelers Cope

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Florida Atlantic University (FAU)

BOCA RATON, Fla. - With the coronavirus crisis dealing the travel industry one of the biggest blows in its history, a new study from researchers at Florida Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast universities suggests that airlines and airports should be doing more to help passengers cope with stress.

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Airlines and airports need to design services and create marketing strategies for passengers dealing with stressful leisure travel, according to Ye Zhang, Ph.D., and Melanie Lorenz, Ph.D., both of FAU, and Jase Ramsey, Ph.D., of FGCU.

The study, published in the journal Tourism Management, explores the diverse stressors travelers face during leisure trips and how these travelers cope at different stages of their journeys. The findings offer important insights into travelers' needs and challenges, said Lorenz, an assistant professor in the Marketing Department within FAU's College of Business.

"This would go a long way toward increasing revenues for both airlines and airports at one of the most difficult times ever for the air-travel industry," she said.

Air travel is particularly important to Florida's hospitality sector, the largest private employer in the Sunshine State with more than 1.1 million people working in the industry. Estimates showed that roughly half of those workers were laid off or had hours reduced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this spring when it disrupted nearly every aspect of American life. Airlines have been devastated by the crisis, slashing jobs and reducing routes, and desperately need consumers to feel safe enough to return to the skies.

For passengers who struggle with stress management, a personalized stress profile could be generated based on passenger demographics and trip data, Zhang noted. Groups of passengers more sensitive to certain stressors could be identified beforehand to offer assistance and help prevent the potential of mental health issues associated with air travel - a critical step that could protect other passengers and crew members, she added.

The researchers also concluded it would be wise to send personalized marketing messages tailored to passengers with specific sensitivities to offer encouragement or to provide extra-clear instructions.

"Airlines and airports have rich databases of passenger information, so they shouldn't waste it and treat passengers as complete strangers," said Zhang, an assistant professor in FAU's Hospitality and Tourism Management program.

In the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 1,100 passengers at the gate in airports in the United States and Brazil. The data was collected prior to the pandemic, but the professors believe it has important implications for new realities such as COVID-19.

The findings show that people with more stressful jobs tend to experience greater stress levels prior to departure and upon return of flight. The pattern persists no matter the adverse event, such as flight delay or cancellation, lost baggage or a terrorism or safety threat.

The study also found that younger people tend to be more sensitive to adverse events at departure, while older travelers were stressed by unpleasant behaviors of other passengers upon return. People who frequently travel are more resilient to adverse events but find social disturbance and dissatisfied air service deliveries less tolerable.

"It can ultimately result in less trust for the air-travel industry as well as reduced travel intentions and loyalty," the study stated. "Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to unveil the mechanisms of air-travel stress to effectively alleviate it and regain customer confidence."

About Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU's world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU's existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit fau.edu.

About FAU Hospitality and Tourism Management Program

The hospitality and tourism management program at FAU is one of only a select handful nationally to be housed in an accredited college of business administration. The college of business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Both the undergraduate BBA and graduate MBA programs in hospitality and tourism management combine 21st century core business coursework along with a hospitality-specific curriculum dedicated to the needs of today's workforce. The program is among the 30 Best Hospitality Programs in the United States (https://thebestschools.org/rankings/best-hospitality-degree-programs/).

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Paul Owers
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