So many of us have been there.
The one last errand before you rush to the airport. Making sure rides are arranged for the kids’ activities while you are away. A few fretting moments as the shuttle bus takes too long to get you to the gate.
And then…just as you get in the security line…you learn your flight has been cancelled. It takes the wind right out of your travel sails, no matter who you are, where you are going, and whatever the reason is for your trip.
Some form or fashion of this is happening to thousands of passengers, every day, all around the world.
After unprecedented pandemic-driven slashing of load factors and balance sheets, our industry finally has the passengers back filling planes. And yet, for reasons well covered in media, we’re stepping on the passenger experience at the exact time when so many look forward to resuming their traveling lifestyle.
Airline Schedule Disruption & the Quick Cascade of Personalized Negative Ramifications
All the complications rush to one’s mind. Will I make my connection? Will I miss my meeting? Can my cousin still pick me up if my flight lands really late? What if the fix takes so long that we don’t fly till tomorrow? And does that mean I now have to find a hotel near the airport tonight? Does this airport have taxis available at this hour?
Regardless if the passenger sits in the plush comfort of seat 2B up front, or is snug in the middle seat of aisle 44 in the back, every single one is processing some form of the above queries when a disruption takes place. Anxiety cuts across every price point. Moreover, irrespective of the reason for the delay – be it weather, a mechanical or some other factor – many passengers instinctively hold the airline accountable for all the cascading challenges of an interrupted journey.
All Signs Point to Service Challenges This Summer for Airlines
The mainstream media stories on airline service issues are seemingly recurring weekly. In mid-June, a story on challenges facing European carriers was even published over the water by the New York Times. Over the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend in the USA, more than 2,500 flights were cancelled. Worldwide, more than 7,000 flights were cancelled that same weekend. During the weekend of June 17-19, FlightAware reported more than 10,000 flight delays or cancellations in the USA alone. Extrapolate that figure to the number of impacted passengers, and one can quickly grasp the downstream problems for airline service leaders.
The confluence of factors impacting airlines this summer are well known to airline executives across all departments – operations, finance, scheduling, customer experience teams, to name just a few.
- Airlines, handlers and airports remain short-staffed, even as both business and leisure volume surges back
- Last-minute flight cancellations cause havoc for crew needing to get to the right destination…and/or needing to quickly find lodging near the airport
- Global warming is driving unseasonal weather events
- Stubborn variants of COVID are resulting in an unsustainable number of short-notice absences for industry employees globally
From a service and branding perspective, social media only exacerbates the challenges of airline disruption. Passengers waiting on hold or not getting the right fix to their unique issue are often quick to lash out. Monitoring and responding to these electronic broadsides across multiple platforms takes time and resource for already-stressed service departments.
Digitized Services – Driven by Data – Can Mitigate, Surprise and Delight
The scope of these challenges have led some trailblazing airlines to trial modern solutions that are tailored to the expectations of today’s connected travelers. Simply stated, passengers are people who are experiencing new, fast technologies in all facets of their life. Yet when it comes to traveling, far too many sigh when they hear the frustrated voice of a pilot or gate agent announcing a delay or cancellation, as they mentally lurch to the analog mindset of legacy service expectations.
Thankfully, proven digital services are increasingly in use today to address issues raised by disruption. These communication technologies promptly provide relevant information to passengers right as flights are delayed and cancelled. Passengers get pre-arranged personalized options for refreshments, lodging and transfers delivered directly into their mobile devices.
The moment of frustration is instantly mitigated, with passengers empowered to choose from options that solve these immediate problems. The seamless, digital nature of this solution – no standing in line, no waiting on hold – elevates the formerly taxing experience into one of surprising efficiency and delight.
Better yet, the overall benefits to airlines in initial rollouts are real and tangible:
- Automation drives less frustration, prevents long queues and dramatically reduces passenger friction
- 92 percent of disrupted travelers using technology have their issues addressed on-the-go via digital communication
- Airport ground staff are recording time savings of 80 percent
- Data compilation and tracking gives leaders greater insight and the ability to plan ahead
- Quick implementation – as fast as two weeks – expedites use of these solutions
Finally, the delivery of services in this manner creates goodwill with the passenger. Highlights include a greater loyalty to the airline, as well as the warm hue that comes from word-of-mouth storytelling – especially crucial today as business travelers get back to the office and share tales from the road.
With the problems of this unique summer travel season already apparent, the time for action is now. Full-time reactive mode will not suffice as the airline industry comes back to life. Airlines that are truly committed to customer service excellence are investing into digitized solutions across the spectrum of their operations.
Leaders taking in this article should not risk getting left behind.
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.