Nurturing the connection crisis through chaos

Today's stress related to inflation and economic uncertainty, the shift to digital-first work and life, and the sheer volume of devastating events have led many to feel like they live in an increasingly lonely and isolated world. With the pandemic (hopefully) in the rear-view, we’re still in a connection crisis. Humans are hard-wired for connection and aren’t getting enough of it.

People walking in an airport
  • Only 39% of people in the US feel very connected to other people.¹
  • 36% of workers around the world reported that their sense of belonging has decreased over the last 6 months.²

After feeling increasingly disconnected over the past several years, people around the world are craving more connections and IRL (in real life) experiences and booking flights to make it happen. 2022 saw a surge in air travel that shows no signs of slowing down in 2023.³

Turbulence ahead

With disruptions in the forecast, the calls for better air travel are getting louder.

Aviation, including the planes, airport runways, facilities, telecommunications, and other systems that serve cities, are quite literally what connects the world. But when there are cracks within the systems that run these operations, it prevents the industry from delivering on human connection and can put a strain on the journey towards it. Several legacy systems that airlines and airports rely on today are ageing and becoming problematic. These outdated systems are causing disruptions that have had a lasting impact on the experience and perception of air travel today.

  • Hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded or impacted by the Southwest Airlines debacle in December due to its inadequate legacy systems.
  • Thousands of suitcases and checked luggage were left behind at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport due to a technical problem with their baggage system.
  • 1,300 flights were cancelled, and over 10,000 were delayed due to the NOTAM, Federal Aviation Administration Pilot-Alert system outage.

Air travel has the power to enable the connection between people and places, but disruptions from legacy system issues are fuelling the stress of travel, with 56% of survey respondents confirming they are most concerned about having an easier travel experience in 2023.⁵ It’s something you have to do to get from one place to the next, not something you get to enjoy and experience. See this tweet for the quote below.

‘‘I was advised after a 6-hour line to allow my luggage to be transferred to my final destination even though my flight was cancelled. It’s currently lost in limbo. It’s clear you can’t get hold of anyone. I’ve been on hold for 3-hours and waiting still. This is beyond ridiculous.’’

Southwest Airlines Passenger

December 26, 2022

Passengers feel like cargo

Redefining the flying experience from unpredictable to humanity-centric.

By upgrading antiquated legacy systems and investing in innovations that make moments across the journey more predictable, brands can enable better humanity-centric connection by giving passengers what they want: more of a sense of control and agency over their trip.

Modernisation isn't the end solution

Constant disruptions lead to demand for aviation transformation.

Short-term disruptions can be a catalyst for innovation. When there are roadblocks that prevent or delay travel, passengers need more predictability and choice to feel in control and cared for. In the future, you will see more widespread use of AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics to both prevent aviation system outages and predict potential disruptions when outages occur to alert passengers of expected delays or cancellations and offer alternative flights and accommodations to get ahead of disruptions. This will give passengers more autonomy over their travel experience.

The latest wave of new technologies the industry is investing in are already giving passengers more predictability, control, and choice within their journey. ‘Smart Airports’ have launched new innovations designed to meet customer needs, like the widespread use of opting into biometrics data to streamline TSA security and smart gate check-ins, CT scanners that improve efficiency and accuracy of security checks, contactless food and retail shopping, and much more to help passengers move through their departure journey more quickly and easily. Alaska Airlines and Lufthansa have introduced electronic baggage tags for tracking and automated bag check-in. Delta and Air Canada are leveraging AI and machine learning for increased personalisation. Delta launched a parallel reality experience at the Detroit airport to help passengers easily navigate the airport through personalised wayfinding.

Future brand connections

Opportunities to deliver better human connections.

Brands that embrace the turbulence of disruptions will have many opportunities to support the connection crisis. Soon, here’s how you might see brands expand on this:

Connection beyond arrival

Widespread use of AI will enable personalised end-to-end connected travel experiences. Airline partnerships with car rental companies and hotels and accommodations are nothing new, but airlines will breathe new life into these by syncing digital systems to offer passengers hyper-personalised recommendations while in flight (i.e., personalised wayfinding upon arrival at the airport for baggage claim and car rental pickups, recommended routes and estimated time to travel to passengers’ Airbnb accommodations, held reservations for recommended restaurants and experiences near the Airbnb based on preferences, and beyond).

Connecting people and places through food

Airports are shifting to be intentional with food options to create more of a sense of place and belonging for the cities they operate in. Airlines and airports will leverage personalisation and wayfinding within apps to recommend restaurants that align with passengers’ dietary restrictions and preferences, creating moments around connecting with a city through food before boarding.

Celebrating self-expression through personal connections

44% of US Gen Zs agree that finding ways to celebrate themselves has become more important to them now than before the COVID-19 pandemic.⁶ TikTok travel trends driven by Gen Z include getting dressed up or down to recreate the nostalgia of flying. You will see more brands creating social moments around celebrating self-expression while flying to engage their community and enable more personal connections between brands and passengers.

So, what happens next?

When aviation systems are successful, brands and their staff have the space and power to nurture human connections. They connect families and friends. They foster business relationships. They bring us home. They take us to new beginnings or far-flung places. They help us face our fears and celebrate big wins. They help make dreams come true. You will soon see which brands embrace the turbulence and make big innovation bets to deliver better human connections.

Want to explore how a humanity-centred approach to business can shape the future of your organisation? We’d love to help you. Let’s talk.


  1. State of Social Connections Study, Meta-Gallup, 2022
  2. Workforce survey, The Conference Board, 2022
  3. Airlines Cut Losses in 2022; Return to Profit in 2023, International Air Transport Association (AITA), 2022
  4. Economy Remains the Public’s Top Policy Priority; COVID-19 Concerns Decline Again, Pew Research Center, 2023
  5. The 2023 Traveler Report, Hilton, 2023
  6. 2023 Global Consumer Trends, Mintel, 2023