Future Flyers - Gen Z

19th March 2015
by Trends in Transport

A dramatically different breed of consumer is on the horizon. Unencumbered with the drag anchor of the past, and empowered by rapidly advancing technology, they will forge a radically altered new world. Is your business ready to welcome Gen Z on board?

In January 2014 Lewis Clarke became the youngest person to reach the South Pole. He was 16 years old. In March 2013 Nicholas D’Aloisio-Montilla sold his app Summly to Yahoo for a reported 30 million US dollars. He was 18 years old. In October 2014 Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She was 17 years old. Generation Z (those born after the mid-nineties) are re-writing the rulebook.

In the summer of 2014 design and innovation consultancy Seymourpowell launched ‘The Gen Z Study’ to get under the skin of this extraordinary new generation. We spent time with influential members of Gen Z leading progressive lifestyles to illuminate the cultural shifts that they are creating. The attitudes and behaviours they are forming today will influence the future consumer landscapes of tomorrow. Below is a snap shot of our findings:

Intertwined Worlds

The term digital natives has become a much used nickname for Gen Z due to the deeply intertwined role technology plays within their day-to-day lives. Incredibly their worlds have become so blurred that physical adaptions are even taking place, for example our 15-year-old Tech Customising respondent Elliot proudly showed us his little finger which had bent after years of gaming morphing to the shape of his PlayStation controller.

And yet, surprisingly, despite this warm embrace of new technologies, our study highlighted that Gen Z are still keen to keep a firm grip on the physical world and are skeptical of entirely digital experiences. Whilst Elliot is optimistic about gestural interfaces, he told us he finds comfort in the tactility and precision offered by physical interactions more appealing. This suggests physical product experiences should not be discarded in a digital world, but rather woven together to create compelling experiences. A charming example of how this could work can be seen in Disney’s AIREAL interface which uses haptic technology to deliver tactile sensations in mid air, enabling users to feel virtual objects, creating an invisible yet physical experience.

Currently many airlines that are incorporating new technologies into their customer journey are keen to hero technology and place it center stage to create the impression of a progressive brand. However, as the Internet of Things expands and more of our devices become smart, future consumers who are highly tech savvy and cynical of tech for tech’s sake will want experiences where technology is carefully and seamlessly woven in to their physical environments. The truly progressive airline brands of the future therefore will be the ones that embed technology into the customer journey in a responsive, tactile and human way. 

The Adaptability Appeal

One of the key differentiators between Gen Z and the generations that have come before them is their innate ability to cope with the turbulence of the current era. Whilst older generations have attempted to cling on to the stability they once had, Gen Z (having grown up with in-stability as the norm) have embraced it and found new opportunities amidst the flux. As a result adaptability is not only strongly desired, but seen as fundamental for success. When our respondents were asked about who they looked up to and why, transformation came up as a recurring theme. Gamer Eligh and Fashion Blogger Ellie, both 16 years old, cited David Bowie as one of their key role models. They stated that this is because of the way he has changed multiple times in his long career, whilst always staying true to himself.

This admiration and reverence for adaptability throws up interesting possibilities and challenges when translated into air travel, particularly within cabin and lounge interiors where compelling new customer experiences could be offered. It was these shape-shifting principles that Seymourpowell worked into Morph, our concept economy seat for airline travel, which uses smart architecture to adjust the seat to suit varying sizes of passenger. This level of transformation may seem radical, but in the context of Gen Z anything but radical innovation will seem old hat and dull. This is a generation that is learning coding from and early age, and is adept at hacking the products around them to suit their needs. To be taken seriously by Gen Z brands will need to unleash the potential of personalisation, as future consumers will buy into experiences that bend to their desires rather than those that offer a one size fits all approach. 

Thirst for Discovery

With the Internet enabling global connections since birth, Gen Z feel that they are living in a small world with increasingly broad horizons. Omnivorously curious, they are hungry for knowledge and novel experiences, perhaps more so than any other generation that has come before them. Whilst connectivity has empowered them, an interesting downside to it is that it has created a feeling that there is less of the world for their generation to uncover. 17-year-old, Fashion and DIY Vlogger, Rose highlighted this point by saying “There’s less to explore. There’s less to find out for yourself.”

We all like to unearth a new hidden gem, be it in the form of a product, experience or person and for many of Gen Z it is the prospect of discovery that drives them to keep exploring and makes them an extremely daring audience.

A great recent example of a brand responding to this can be seen in Marriott Hotel’s ‘travel brilliantly’ campaign which includes the use of 4D virtual reality travel experiences which transport guests to potential destinations using Oculus Rift gaming headsets.

As with the hotel industry, airlines, which already provided access to global travel, are in a great position to tap into this heightened thirst for adventure. 

Environmental Custodians

The word ‘sustainability’ can often feel like an insurmountable challenge for the airline industries where external factors such as government legislation can inhibit green innovation. And yet, our research indicates that by tackling this elephant in the room head on brands can build a strong emotional connection with Gen Z who view sustainable, products, and lifestyles not only as a urgent necessity, but also as cool and aspirational.  


This new perspective on ‘green’ is unsurprising when you consider that this post-tsunami generation have had an unparalleled access to the human stories behind environmental tragedies. Thanks to the citizen journalism enabled by smart devices, they feel a far greater personal responsibility for looking after the environment than previous generations have done.  This outlook was highlighted during a discussion on aspirational purchases with Simran, a 17-year-old Crew Culture Athlete who told us “I’m really loving hybrids at the moment. So my dream car would be a hybrid car, because if we could change the way that we drive it would change a lot around us for the better. ”


The shift from dreams of super cars, to dreams of hybrids indicates a future generation of consumers that will demand a fundamentally different type of performance from transport, and that Aviation brands that are seen to make active steps forward with problem solving will be in a strong position for the future. Think of Virgin Atlantic who have been one of the first to align their brand values with sustainable innovation by investing in low carbon aviation fuel. Vitally, Gen Z will not only hope that brands will follow in their footsteps, but expect them to.