As Omicron wanes, the future of air travel is looking up. The airline industry is looking to digital for the competitive edge to win back the hearts and wallets of loyalists – but also driven by the need to do more with less.
A triple whammy of labor shortages, inflation and health regulations has created the need for contactless automation across the journey, while air carriers must continue to deliver personalized and customer-centric travel experiences.
The stakes are higher than ever for improving customer experience (CX). The allegiance of once loyal airline passengers is up for grabs after two years of cautious isolation, and as new startup airlines enter the market.
Leisure travel is rebounding faster than business travel, as people spend money to see family or splurge on their first big vacation in years.
Optimizing the traveler experience isn’t just about getting travelers where they need to go but being empathetic to their unique situations and easing the stress and frustrations associated with travel.
It’s critical that airlines and the travel industry as a whole meet passengers where they are.
Damage control: Amid disruptions, airlines have an opportunity to re-build customer loyalty
As post-COVID traffic spikes, airlines have big opportunities — and challenges — to win back customers.
Here are a few ways airlines can build future loyalists:
1. Resolve frustration faster with transparency and flexibility
When something goes wrong – such as a flight being canceled, delayed or rescheduled – passengers demand fast and honest answers. They want airlines to proactively provide background on the situation and next steps without requiring the customer to go searching.
If airlines do not effectively and quickly respond, they run the risk of causing customer frustration, which could make passengers reconsider booking with them again. Conversely, if airlines have processes in place to efficiently resolve issues, they’ll create customers for life.
Airlines must make it as easy as possible for customers to navigate disruptions. The pandemic has taught airlines that transparency and flexibility are critical for the future of travel, and these companies will need to rethink how they design their digital experience to be nimble and support customers through chaotic situations.
To drive transparency, airlines can launch interactive tools that allow passengers to track where their plane is coming from to anticipate potential delays. To enhance flexibility, airlines can deploy intuitive platforms that ease the process of accessing flight credits and rescheduling flights.
Taking the concept of flexibility a step further, many airlines are giving passengers more power to dictate when they do or don’t feel comfortable flying, and some have even offered passengers opportunities to rebook as late as the day of their flight if unexpected weather or other issues pop up.
2. Digitize the experience to get in front of future disruptions
In addition to preparing for service disruptions, airlines need protocols in place to ensure they can quickly adjust policies to align with new global regulations in health and safety.
Many have adopted technology such as real-time alerts via their app or text message to notify passengers about any changes in their local region or upcoming destination.
Airlines are even creating full-fledged online hubs to host all this critical information and even enable passengers to upload critical documents such as vaccination cards or recent COVID-19 tests. By making all this information accessible online, airlines can deliver a seamless experience for all travelers, no matter what bumps they encounter along the way.
Above and beyond: New tools help airlines charter a new path for the future of travel experiences
The new tools that help airlines manage disruptions can also help them deliver a best-inclass experience in normal, day-to-day situations.
By enhancing their customer support channels and resources to get in front of customer questions, airlines can mitigate frustration and create happier, more loyal passengers.
Here are a few ways they can do this:
1. Develop personalized alerts and notifications
The same SMS notifications or push alerts that help airlines communicate changes to health and safety protocols can be used to share updates on new promotions or expanded routes that airlines are offering.
They can also serve as a touchpoint for personalized offers, alerting passengers to experiences near their destination to complete their trip.
2. Design and iterate digital experiences in real-time
Another example is in the redesign of an airlines’ website or app. Launching dedicated pages to host important alerts is important, but it’s not a one-and-done initiative.
Airlines must continue to iterate their website and copy based on customer feedback and friction in real-time. By spotting and analyzing customer pain points as they happen, airlines can understand how issues impact their business and take steps to close gaps immediately.
3. Revamp loyalty programs
In going above and beyond to create a stellar passenger experience, airlines also have an opportunity to gain new loyalty program members. Put simply, good experiences translate to returning passengers who want to be rewarded for their loyalty.
Airlines can leverage standout user experiences to encourage customers to sign up for credit cards where they can get more bang for their buck or participate in loyalty programs without a credit card.
Not only do these programs benefit the passenger with special offers and deals, they also encourage more trips and therefore, more revenue for airlines and their partners.
The future of air travel has never looked more bright, especially for leisure travel, which is expected to reach 99% of its pre-pandemic peak this year.
As airlines rebound – with net industry losses expected to drop to just under $12 billion this year as compared to $51.8 billion last year – investing in digital tools will help them deliver a standout, empathetic consumer travel experience.