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How To Improve Customer Experience In Air Travel

22nd Sep 2017
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Flying can be a painful experience. One recent study found that air travel (along with broadband) is one of the worst sectors when it comes to customer experience. There has in fact been a 4.3% increase in the number of times customers have cited airline companies for their bad service. So what’s really making airline passengers so grumpy and how this be fixed?

According to Fast Company writer Mark Wilson, this is partly the consumers’ fault. He argues that ever since air flight booking started happening over the internet, the ticket prices have been a race to the bottom. With ever-shrinking margins and volatile fuel prices, airlines often find no alternative than to squeeze value out of every inch of space to keep making money while keeping air flight tickets low. In other words, the grumpy customer today pays Walmart prices but expects Nordstrom’s service.

This still does not explain how the same customer is rationale enough to expect Walmart service at Walmart but fails to do so while flying. One theory that can explain the higher levels of annoyance among air travelers is boredom. Air travel often involves lengthy periods of inactivity. Studies show that human beings find time to be moving slower when they are bored. Add to this the trouble with cramped seating, and it is obvious why customers fail to acknowledge that such inexpensive travel is only made possible due to such travel conditions.

A survey published by an airline fare tracking website found that besides the flying itself, a significant chunk of travelers also hate the process of researching and booking tickets. The pre-boarding formalities that include checking-in and security checks are another factor that is contributing to frustration among travelers.

Now that we know these irritants, how do we go about fixing them? Here are a few ideas that can help.

Offer a way for customers to beat boredom

An increasing number of airlines are cutting down on in-flight entertainment systems to not only reduce licensing expenses, but also to bring down fuel expenses. While this may seem unfair to the passengers, this can be inevitable to an airline looking for ways to bring down the operational costs. An alternative to this is to introduce other avenues for customers to beat boredom. Airlines may, for instance, offer free/paid Wi-Fi to passengers on routes where it is legal. Passengers love to surf the internet and this is also a way for your business travelers to be more productive. Unlike in-flight entertainment systems, Wi-Fi systems are lighter and therefore consume lesser fuel. Additionally, the costs involved in offering internet are way cheaper than acquiring licenses for TV shows and movies.

Making check-in and boarding quicker

Passengers have to jump through a number of hoops from the moment they step into an airport to the time they actually get seated. Creating incentives for online check-in not only reduces the queues at the airport, but can also make the process more seamless. One way to do this is by charging passengers for physical check-in at the airport. Tie this in with baggage-drop kiosks and passengers could easily save at least fifteen to thirty minutes on their pre-boarding rituals. Ryanair was one of the first airlines to scrap airport check-in although this move backfired. A nominal fee for airport check-in still serves as a deterrent and forces more customers to check-in online, which reduces wait times and improves experience for all travelers.

Airlines must also look at other ways to cut down wait times for their passengers. American recently tied up with the US TSA to explore the benefits of an automated conveyer belt that reduces the bottlenecks during security checks by redirecting suspicious baggage to a separate area. Incremental improvements such as this can shave off a few minutes from the waiting time and can go a long way towards better passenger experience.

Reducing frustrations with the booking process

Booking a flight ticket is not as simple as visiting your favorite travel website, entering in your travel details, and booking the cheapest flight on your date. Flight ticket prices are so dynamic that the cheapest ticket you find during your research may no longer stay at this price by the time you want to make the booking. In fact, prices may go up even further during the booking process. It’s no wonder then that researching and booking tickets are among the most stressful aspects of flying.

The Indian airline Jet Airways recently tried to fix this issue by introducing coupon booklets with fixed prices. While you may be able to get cheaper tickets by booking early, this booklet is aimed at corporate flyers who may often need to book tickets at the last minute. The coupon helps these travelers avoid the stress of booking late. Although Jet Airways targets corporate customers with their booklets, similar strategies may also be introduced to retail customers who are more price-conscious.

Improving customer experience in air travel goes well beyond the few paragraphs of ideas discussed in this article. However, it goes without saying that there are no magic bullets here. Improving customer experience is a slow, iterative process that looks into each of the various pain points in the journey and identifies ways to fix them. 

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