American Flyers Willing to Pay More for Personal Space

Air travelers prefer crying babies over smelly seatmate

May 16, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, May 16, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- As summer travel season approaches, Americans planning vacations – particularly those planning on flying – have a lot of decisions ahead. With the increasing "a la carte"-ization of air travel, flyers are faced with an ever increasing number of choices as to what levels of comfort and convenience they want and are willing to pay for.  Findings from a new Harris Poll show that among Americans who travel by commercial airline once or more per year, many are looking for personal space to stretch out in-flight, with 58% willing to pay for extra legroom on a longer flight (3+ hours) and over half (53%) willing to shell out to avoid the dreaded middle seat on such a flight. (Full findings and data tables available here)


This Harris Poll of 2,276 U.S. adults was conducted online from March 13-18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

When booking a flight these days, one of the first choices air travelers need to make is which airline will be getting their business. Alaska/Horizon Airlines seems to be a preferred airline for many, as it was named Brand of the Year in the full service airline category in the 2013 Harris Poll EquiTrend® Study, followed by Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Airlines. Southwest was the 2013 Value Airline Brand of the Year for the third consecutive year in the Harris Poll EquiTrend Study, likely due in part to the brand continuing to buck the trend of charging for checked bags and change fees; an additional factor may be the expanding list of destinations becoming available as Southwest continues to absorb AirTran routes. Click here for the full list of 2013 EquiTrend Brands of the Year.

You Can't Always Get What You Want
Many flyers appear to be unsatisfied with the current amount of personal space on airplanes, with the aforementioned majority (58%) willing to pay extra for additional legroom on a long flight and half of fliers (50%) indicating that it would be worth having a chatty seatmate to be in a seat with extra legroom. When asked to select their top two amenities on a flight, the most desired choice was a window or aisle seat (53%), followed by extra legroom (35%).

  • Women (59%) are more likely than men (48%) to choose a window or aisle seat as among the most important amenities.
  • Men (28%) are twice as likely as women (14%) to select in-flight Wi-Fi as a top amenity.

Would You Rather…
While extra personal space is the top desire among flyers, many clearly feel that it isn't worth a spilled drink or smashed laptop, with almost half (46%) of flyers saying they'd rather be seated in a no recline zone than in a seat with extra legroom. Carry-on baggage fees may be another area where some flyers are willing to compromise on comfort, with a surprising 39% saying they're rather let a stranger sleep on their shoulder than have to pay for carry-on baggage.

"Travelers have been dealing with increasing airline prices and add-on fees for the past few years," said Mike de Vere, President of The Harris Poll. "We wanted to find out which amenities people were willing to open up their wallets for, and discovered that while many consider added comfort and entertainment to be worth shelling out for, nearly two in five would give up personal boundaries to avoid carry-on baggage fees."

And who knew that there were bigger pet peeves while flying than a crying baby? Well, the majority of flyers (63%) would rather be seated next to one than next to a smelly adult. But while most flyers are in agreement that they don't want to share a row with a less-than-fragrant fellow traveler, they're split on how much they're willing to listen to their seatmates gab: half of flyers (50%) believe airlines should allow passengers to use mobile phones during flights.

Missed Connection
In-flight entertainment is also seen by many as an important part of pleasant travel, and just over one in four (27%) flyers would rather pay extra for baggage than fly cross-country without in-flight TV and/or movies. That said, over half of flyers (55%) would rather have free WiFi than free TV or movies on a flight. In addition:

  • Nearly half of fliers (47%) would pay extra for a seatback entertainment system on a 3+ hour flight.
    • Roughly one-fourth (24%) would pay extra for this on a flight under 2 hours.
  • Over four in ten (44%) would pay extra for in-flight Wi-Fi on a 3+ hour flight.
    • Slightly more than one fourth (26%) would pay extra for this on a flight of less than two hours.
  • Those with children under 18 are roughly twice as likely as those without to choose in-flight Wi-Fi (34% vs. 15%) and in-flight entertainment (25% vs. 13%) as among their most-desired amenities.

To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

The Harris Poll Methodology
This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 13 and 18, 2013 among 2,276 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 834 typically travel by commercial airline one or more times per year. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

Harris Poll EquiTrend® Methodology

A sample of 38,814 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over were surveyed online by Harris Interactive from January 11 through February 8, 2013 and the survey took an average of 35 minutes to complete. The sample was from the Harris Interactive online panel of respondents, a database consisting of over a million cooperative respondents who have double-opted in to be randomly invited by Harris Interactive to take part in online surveys. The total number of brands rated was 1,511. Each respondent was asked to rate a total of 40 randomly selected brands. Each brand received approximately 1,000 ratings. Data were weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. population of consumers ages 15 and over based on age by sex, education, race/ethnicity, region, income, and data from respondents ages 18 and over were also weighted for their propensity to be online. This is the same precision weighting approach Harris has used to become the leading online polling organization when calling elections.

The Brand Equity Index is the keystone to the EquiTrend program providing an understanding of a brand's overall strength. A brand's Equity is determined by a calculation of Familiarity, Quality and Purchase Consideration. Brand of the Year is determined by a simple ranking of brands.

An academic study recognized the Harris Poll EquiTrend® Brand Equity model as a proven predictor of stock performance during the 2008 financial downturn, and thus was validated as a new tool to help investors and analysts hedge market investments. The results of the academic study findings appear in the September 2012 issue of the International Journal of Research in Marketing in the paper titled, "The Performance of Global Brands in the 2008 Financial Crisis: A Test of Two Brand Value Measures." The paper was authored by Johny K. Johansson, Claudiu V. Dimofte and Sanal K. Mazvancheryl.

The Harris Poll EquiTrend® study results disclosed in this release may not be used for advertising, marketing or promotional purposes without the prior written consent of Harris Interactive.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #27, May 16, 2013

About Harris Interactive

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