’Tis the season to be canceled
What can airlines learn from Southwest’s nightmare before Christmas? And how can airlines take advantage of the new generation of SaaS technology to elevate customer loyalty?
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The Christmas holiday break is a testing time for all airlines, and there’s an inevitability to news of festive delays. In the last two storm-filled weeks of the year, over 15,000 Southwest flights were cancelled. Some 1.5 million customers had been affected. Yes, this is a more extreme example of recent disruption event, but are other airlines doing anything better when it comes to technology investments?
The unfortunate situation with things going spectacularly wrong for Southwest Airlines in the final days of 2022 is more common than we would like to believe. 80% of all airlines globally rely on manual or semi-manual procedures when it comes to disruption or crew management supported by outdated software long overdue. Has anyone stopped to think what a tremendous effect this has on customer loyalty?
Now the Christmas decorations are down and we’re back at work, what should airlines – big and small – take from Southwest’s experience?
When the storms hit, systems crumbled
Southwest have always prided themselves on their staff, and rightly so. It will come as no surprise that, when the storm hit and flights began to be grounded, Southwest’s struggles to cope was not the fault of its people on the ground.
Indeed it’s been reported that hundreds of Southwest’s own pilots and crew members slept in airports next to passengers. Some stuck with nowhere to go. Others in a heroic effort to keep the wheels turning. As Captain Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said to CNN, “It’s phones, it’s computers, it’s processing power, it’s the programs used to connect us to airplanes – that’s where the problem lies, and it’s systemic throughout the whole airline.”
No, while short-staffing undoubtedly played some part in Southwest’s ability to recover, Southwest’s pre- Christmas failure was caused by an IT system unable to adequately respond to the level and severity of disruption that hit the airline over those first few stormy days.
The airline is now on the verge of a major technology evolution, serving as a prime example to others to lead the modernization and overhaul of operations tech stack.
Growing complexities, growing expectations: a perfect digital storm for airlines
It is a cautionary tale for airline CIOs across the US and beyond. Moreover, while the media has no doubt been hard on Southwest, the outside world’s patience with airlines is only getting shorter.
The complexities involved with operating an airline are constantly growing. But customer expectations of what they should expect from their air-travel experience are growing faster.
In particular, post-Covid, customers are increasingly expecting a far more holistic digital experience, covering all touch points at every stage in their journey, all through their own devices.
If their journey has been disrupted, they expect to be informed and helped instantly and seamlessly. And if this doesn’t happen? Airlines live in a world where one bad experience can be beamed to millions across the airwaves through the power of social media. It’s a tough gig.
If the airline can offer an element of surprise about the quality of extra-care, offer customers a choice of an overnight stay and implement personalization, customer loyalty will only grow higher.
SaaS: the secret weapon for staying up to speed
One piece of good news for airlines, though, is that the digital technology available to them is better, and more implementable, than ever before. Crucially, airlines no longer need to develop and support their own customized software (and should be wary of IT partners insisting they do).
Instead, airlines now have the option to choose reliable SaaS products available off the shelf in the cloud.
Implementation in weeks not months
One effect of this new wave of SaaS tech for airlines is that digital upgrades are no longer projects to be feared. Implementation times have been cut from months to often between 4 to 8 weeks depending on the scale of the upgrade. While this new generation of SaaS technology is also able to offer end-to-end services, powered by automation, that overcome the gaps that inevitably emerge when legacy structures are patched up and added to.
Modern SaaS technology for airlines can automate +80% of the operations required in crew planning and allocation even during times of disruptions and offer an easy communication channel to the crew through connected super-apps. Similarly, present-day technology can help eliminate airport chaos and long queues for stranded passengers, offering self-service solutions directly on their devices. It can deliver personalized options for a hotel stay near the airport, transfer service, refreshment vouchers, and information on the re-booked flight – all in one place for passengers while delivering the highest level of data and cost transparency back to the airline.
The right time to upgrade your technology is… all the time
All this is too late to save Christmas. But new storms will come. Disruptions will happen. The summer holiday season is soon upon us with more passenger volumes than ever before. Digitalization is the single most significant investment opportunity in the immediate future of airline travel.
It’s also a journey not a destination, with Digital tech a constant upgrade in progress – something SaaS technology is making possible. The sooner airline CIOs & CXOs can work together to implement this new wave of digital technology, the safer they are from being the next bad-weather casualty.
To learn more about how digitalization is changing the airline industry for good, as well as more about what airlines need to know, download our free white paper on MAXIMIZING RECOVERY: THE FUTURE OF THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY IS DIGITAL.
Article by Luca De Angelis, CEO, HRS Crew & Passenger Solutions. As the CEO of HRS Crew & Passenger Solutions, Luca De Angelis works today with multiple airlines to enhance their service and crew management operations.