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Airport delays: not plane sailing

Importance of Airline Loyalty Programmes

Report warns carriers of consequences of negative reactions to delays.

September 24, 2013 12:01 by

When passengers are faced with flight delays or cancellations and an airline fails to communicate effectively, or compensate them adequately, what long-term costs does the carrier incur?

The fact is, it’s become relatively easy to measure the direct cost of disruptions to an airline – Oxford Economic calculated that disruptions from the 2010 spread of Icelandic volcanic ash over European airspace had a $253m net impact on the aviation sector in the Middle East and Africa – but what’s difficult to measure is the true cost and aftermath of negative consumer sentiment.

A new independent global study, titled ‘Passengers First: Re-thinking Irregular Operations’, suggests that international airlines should develop more customer-centric responses to flight delays or cancellations, reminding them that customers are increasingly venting frustration on social media platforms.

The study, authored by PhoCusWright and commissioned by Amadeus, lists insufficient communication, lack (or absence) of compensation and additional costs as some of the most common customer frustrations caused by flight delays or disruptions.

The full report, which can be downloaded here, argues that a customer-centric approach to handling irregular operations may help bridge the gap between how airlines and passengers perceive delays.

For instance, providing greater alternative travel choices to travellers that factor in their individual preferences could positively affect future booking behaviour.

At the same time, the report recommends a change in processes used to manage delays and cancellations such as re-scheduling, customer communications and re-accommodation, which often tends to be based on the airline’s convenience rather than the customer’s.

Responses based on interviews with leading academics, global airlines, trade organizations and 2,800 travellers indicate that cancelled flights meant that 18 per cent of passengers surveyed could not fulfill the purpose of a trip booked in the past year (rising to one third in China).

Norm Rose, senior technology and corporate market analyst at PhoCusWright and author of the study, says that when travellers post negative messages on Twitter or decide never to book with a particular carrier again after being kept waiting for several hours at the airport, it results in an indirect loss of revenue for airlines.

“A passenger-centric approach requires a re-evaluation of irregular operations management, to enable airlines to better serve customers and protect revenues,” she says.

Key findings:

- Deliver a standard service approach to disruptions: Airlines should consider incorporating a standard service approach to deal with passenger itinerary changes. When serious flight interruptions occur, airlines with such an approach in place need to extend their processes to a larger number of travellers, rather than attempt to implement a new or reactive response.

– Offer ‘intelligent re-accommodation’: Automated re-accommodation technology may enhance operational efficiency, but does not necessarily resolve 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. Airlines should consider investing in systems that provide insights into individual passenger preferences and reasons for travelling, including passengers who book through indirect channels.

– 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 services will enable airlines to provide authoritative, personalised and proactive communication and reduce traveller-dependence on third-party sources.

- Moderate delays hurt the industry more than big ticket disruptions: The biggest challenge facing airlines today is not from major weather disruption or force majeure events, such as the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted travel across Europe in 2011. It is the far more mundane moderate delay of one to four hours that matters most to customers. In all markets, at least 50 per cent of travellers have experienced moderate delays on one or more flights in the past 12 months, with this figure peaking in China (74 per cent) and Brazil (67 per cent). Instances of significant delays are far less common.

– Travellers are increasingly venting frustration via social media: Globally, approximately one third of travellers surveyed say that they had posted comments about flight delays to their friends on social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. More travellers shared experiences among their immediate family or friends groups using other means. The study urges airlines to shift their perceptions on social media and consider it as more than just a mere promotional tool to market their services. Structured social mapping using analytical tools could give airlines a greater insight into customer sentiment and public perception on how disruptions were handled.

Emirates Airline

A recent example of an airline losing customer confidence from delays and poor customer service is Emirates Airline. In August, hundreds of frustrated passengers surrounded the Dubai-based carrier’s customer service desk in Beirut-Hariri International Airport after a flight was delayed for many hours due to technical difficulties.

The airline’s customers, who were eventually able to board the flight to Dubai after a 14-hour delay, told Kippreport that the carrier did not communicate adequately with them, failed to offer valid explanations for the delay and did not provide them with enough provisions during the wait.

When contacted, the airline offered a brief statement defending its decision to delay the flight, without offering an apology. While some passengers received an apologetic email and compensation in the form of 30,000 air miles nearly ten days after the incident, many are yet to receive either.

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