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Considering the customer

Putting customers at the heart of irregular operations management is part of a radical new approach airlines should consider, argues Patricia Simillon, head of airlines operations strategy at Amadeus

Irregular operations management presents a twofold challenge to airlines: poorly managed irregular operations threaten to negatively impact both the customer experience – and thus brand loyalty – and, ultimately, the airline’s profit margin. For many years, this area of airline operations has continued to be an Achilles’ heel, even as airlines have adopted innovative and effective new approaches to activities such as partnerships, merchandising and loyalty programmes. The way irregular operations are managed today is largely based on techniques and IT systems originally pioneered in the 1960s, and it’s high time that all industry players engage in a radical rethink: a new approach that puts the customer experience at the heart of irregular operations management will provide the key to minimising the negative effects of a flight delay or cancellation on customer perceptions and brand loyalty.


The passenger experience: uncovering the truth, and ideas for the future

In a new research study commissioned by Amadeus, Passengers first: Rethinking irregular operations, the respected PhoCusWright analyst Norm Rose argues, if the airline industry wishes to increase customer loyalty and reduce the costs of delays and cancellations, considering the perspective of each individual passenger and the reason for their trip will help to achieve this.


The study is based on a survey of more than 2,800 travellers from five key markets: the UK, the US, Brazil, China and Australia, as well as insights from leading academics at organisations such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech. According to the survey, delayed or cancelled flights meant that nearly one in five (18%) of all passengers surveyed could not fulfil the purpose of a trip booked in the past year (rising to a third in China).


Key findings and recommendations include:

Delivering a standard service approach to disruptions. Airlines should consider incorporating a standard service approach to deal with passenger itinerary changes. When severe events occur, airlines with such an approach in place merely extend their processes to a larger number of travellers rather than attempt to implement a new, reactive process.


Airlines should be prepared to offer ‘intelligent re-accommodation’. Automated re-accommodation technology may provide efficiencies for the operational staff, but it does not always solve the underlying passenger itinerary disruptions. Airlines may want to implement an intelligent one-click solution that empowers passengers to choose alternatives most relevant to their needs. This may involve investing in new systems in order to gain a greater understanding of each passenger’s preferences and their reasons for travelling, including passengers who book through indirect channels. 


One of the most important recommendations offered to airlines is to provide transparent communication. In every market surveyed, except China, insufficient communication was cited as passengers’ top frustration with irregular operations management. Introducing an integrated, cross-departmental approach to customer service will enable airlines to provide authoritative, personalised, proactive communication – therefore lessening the need for travellers to rely on third-party sources.


Global airline passengers’ most common frustrations

Moderate delays hurt the industry more than big ticket disruptions. One of the greatest challenges facing airlines is not major weather or force majeure events, such as the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted travel across Europe in 2011, but it is rather the more regular moderate delays of between one to four hours that matter most to customers. In all markets at least 50% of travellers have experienced a moderate delay on one or more flights in the past 12 months, with this figure highest in China (74%) and Brazil (67%). Instances of significant delay are far less common and therefore have less of an impact on customer satisfaction. >>

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