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The Huge Surprise About Small Talk Between Seat-Mates on Airplanes

Passengers wait at London Heathrow International Airport
Robert Nickelsberg—Getty Images Airline passengers wait for departure at London Heathrow Airport, the fifth busiest airport in the world.

TripAdvisor survey reveals U.S. flyers’ likes and dislikes

U.S. flyers are largely welcoming to casual conversation with their seat neighbors, one inclination among the many travel preferences, complaints and praise reported by TripAdvisor’s annual air travel survey.

With over 4,300 respondents, the study reported that 73% of travelers think a bit of small talk is acceptable. In fact, many travelers would prefer to chat with a woman—for the 45% of respondents who have gender preferences for their seatmates, 87% would prefer a female neighbor.

The survey also highlighted air travel’s improved efficiency, with 38% and 36% of travelers listing a more streamlined check-in process and easier booking process, respectively, as improvements in air travel over the past five years. Other improvements—32% and 28% citing more streamlined security and boarding processes, respectively—similarly emphasized air travel’s expedited procedures.

Facilitating these streamlined processes is users’ increased use of smartphones to aid their travel experience. 69% of the survey’s respondents used their mobile devices to check their flight status, up 14% from 2013, and 55% used their phones to check in, up 17% from 2013. Southwest Airlines is the latest airline to jump on the mobile bandwagon, announcing in May its intention to spread mobile boarding passes to all of its U.S. markets.

Less of a new trend are travelers’ complaints about limited legroom, with 73% of the survey’s respondents listing uncomfortable seats as a complaint. The two next most popular complaints were costly airline fees and unpredictable flight delays, cited by 66% and 45%, respectively.

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