Was airline travel meant to be a drag versus a joy?

People love the destination part of air travel, but dread the getting there.  Having now spent the last couple of years frequently traveling, I’ve become obsessed with reconciling this – with making the getting there an enjoyable part of the overall travel experience.

As people fly more and constantly look for better deals, airlines have been pushed to find efficiencies to deliver the cost-savings that customers demand. The result has been a mixed bag: while costs have gone down, so has the travel experience. Dissatisfaction is rampant and apparent among passengers, whether it's long line ups, poor food choices, small seats, or mediocre retail experiences. Passengers not only feel nickel and dimed but often feel like they have very little control of their travel experience, a state that psychologists call learned helplessness.

How should airlines respond? New regulations are certainly not the answer. Instead, I think the industry needs to redefine its customer experience and bolster revenue streams through digital disruption and redesign. Innovation can turn travel into something passengers believe they can shape and control, an experience to look forward to rather than dread.

Rethinking Customer Journeys

There are many opportunities for win-win offerings that provide customers with a chance to customize their trip and for airlines to improve their revenue streams. There isn’t just one area to focus on. Rather, the answers lie in understanding the entire traveller journey through the highs and lows. According to the 2016 Global Passenger Study, satisfaction is highest at booking and check-in whereas dissatisfaction is highest during the day of journey with security, line ups, inflight entertainment and bag collection. I think these steps can be reframed and enhanced with a customer-centric approach to design/innovation. Four key areas offer win-win opportunities for customers and airlines.

1. Providing Choices

Having choices increases a sense of control. It changes our mindset and increases satisfaction. Consider offering customers opportunities to individually customize and enhance their journeys versus standard pre-packaged ticket class options. Many areas jump out and beg for mix and match enhancement options: line ups, bag stowing, inflight connectivity, seat comfort, meals, entertainment, and luggage pickup. Perhaps I want early boarding as I need my luggage stowed in the overhead bin, my colleague needs added leg room, while another is forced into an economy seat but has an executive meal allowance. Regardless of what the need or want may be, there are many opportunities to seize these revenue and customer satisfaction points through innovation.

2. Tracking the Journey

FedEx and Domino's Pizza know what they are doing… The ability to track is another way to help with passengers’ need for control of their journey. We may not be able to prevent delays, when turbulence occurs and wait times but what if we could reduce uncertainty and help passengers regain a sense of control? How long things take is uncertain throughout a journey whether its with flight changes, food and beverage service windows in flight, baggage status, etc. Tracking and information sharing counters these realities with a feeling of being in charge, even if it does not lead to any actual change in delivery times or delays. They also provide an opportunity for premium service offerings to all passengers throughout the experience.

3. Empathically Responding to Service Demands

Passengers aren’t the only ones suffering from learned helplessness. Frontline employees are in the same boat. Empathic responsiveness can overcome this shared misery by bolstering mutual resilience and a sense of shared control over difficult circumstances. What if we gave staff way more information about the people they are serving and the ability to offer small rewards such as front-of-the-line service, a free drink, etc. when difficult challenges arise? It would help create a bond with their passengers and a sense of: “We’re in this difficulty together.”

4. Providing Entertaining Distractions

Offering passengers entertainment options is a great distraction from the challenges of travel. Most airlines have a base offering but why stop there? With more airlines encouraging passengers to “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD), personalized onboard mobile shopping can become another form of entertainment and distraction. Digital commerce platforms can deliver retail therapy right to the passenger’s seat. It is especially relevant as more and more airlines are offering wifi onboard. But even when connectivity is not available, a platform can address this by allowing usability while offline, storing the data until the user is once again connected.

The Future

Technology combining Passenger Data with Machine Learning and Personalization will create interconnected services and revitalized customer experiences. It’s only a matter of time before Siri is personalizing orders for us rather than us asking her for help. The possibility of airlines offering omnichannel, end-to-end personalized digital travel experiences is genuine and available today. Airlines can leverage new propositions that enhance customer ownership of their journey by putting personalized, digital solutions in passengers’ hands.

It should be no surprise that this is what is driving our vision and roadmap here at Guestlogix.  We think future wins for customers and carriers include:

  • Digitally connected travelers and employees sharing information and solving air travel challenges together,
  • Premium a la carte services offered from journey start to finish,
  • Consumer choices optimized and offered to wherever customers are on their journey,
  • Personalization that remembers and knows me, and
  • Digital personal concierge that manage proactively guide passengers through their entire day of journey

Marrying the growing number of passengers to new digital technologies represents a tremendous opportunity for the airline industry. Great end-to-end experiences that provide travellers with a sense of control over their journey are essential. With ancillary revenue for the sector now representing some 33% of overall revenue, it only makes sense that soon airline travel will be a fantastic business bringing joy to customers (and airlines!) once again.



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