How are airlines reinventing the passenger experience? - By Ahmed Haouaria

26 Fév 2022

Let’s start with a definition of the concept of "customer experience" to better understand it and contextualize its importance. "Customer experience" refers to all the emotions and feelings felt by your customers throughout their interactions with your business, that is to say, before, during, and after the purchase of a product or service. It evolves over time, so the slightest interaction changes your customer's perception of your brand.

In fact, improving the customer experience requires integrating it into your business strategy. To gain competitive advantage with your offer, you must federate all your collaborators. Together, they will have to follow clear and common objectives to act effectively in the long term.

Customer experience applied to air transport

In a post-COVID world, customer satisfaction would be an asset for the better recovery of activities in sectors in crisis. This objective could be achieved by implementing innovative solutions to improve the personalization of offers and accelerate the digitalization of organizations internally.

In a complex and changing context, the personalization of services has become an absolute priority in the strategy of companies to ensure a response adapted to the expectations of each client.

The digital transformation is changing the passenger experience, from booking tickets to arriving at the airport, including the entertainment offered on board. The challenge for airlines is now twofold: to streamline their entire process while remaining close to passengers.

For business and leisure, we are generally loyal to airlines that offer us personalized services and allow us to travel smoothly.

Welcome, Mr. Ahmed. We know you had a very long flight, and we will take care of you.

This attention, the result of a particular interest shown by the cabin crew in their passengers, is, in itself, sufficient to make the customer extremely touched by these gestures of personalized welcome and that human contact makes it possible to build customer loyalty. Digital technologies offer many advantages in this context, but they are not an end in themselves. Airlines should carefully identify the needs of their passengers and the evolution of their requirements to retain them. Satisfied travellers will thus become ambassadors of the company, sharing their positive experiences with their friends, family and colleagues.

Improving the passenger experience

Passengers must be at the heart of the digital transformation of the air transport industry. The passenger experience cannot be reduced to the systematic organization of the different stages of a journey. My own experience in the airline sector, particularly that which I spent within the Royal Air Maroc In-Flight Services Department, showed me how the quality of human relations should be as important as the increase in productivity or cost reduction for airlines.

It is impossible to deny that the customer experience mainly summons emotions and, in this specific case, the way the customer feels during the trip.

While travelers were generally loyal to the same carriers, they are now increasingly volatile and find it more difficult to identify the differences between the services offered and mainly compare prices. Digitization can allow companies to distinguish themselves from their competitors, provided they retain their relational dimension. It's the key to success.

The benefits of digitization

For airlines, digital transformation should, above all, be an opportunity to engage passengers while optimizing their strategic decisions and their operating profit margins.

Saving time is one of the key elements to improving the passenger experience: easily book a ticket online, check-in automatically, simply report lost luggage... Entertainment and in-flight communications are also essential.

Business travelers on Alaska Airlines can use iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger from their smartphones for a penny while on an Alaska Airlines aircraft equipped with Gogo technology. All they need to do is create a Gogo wifi account to take advantage of this service, which is currently being rolled out.

Singapore Airlines has entered into a partnership with the world-renowned health and wellness pension organization, Golden Door, based in California, United States of America (USA). The aim is to improve well-being on Singapore Airlines' longest international routes.

With healthy travel being a priority for everyone who travels by air, this partnership brings a new roster of meal options and health-focused wellness exercises to SIA customers onboard its flights between Singapore and the United States. Golden Door experts, including top chefs, nutritionists, and personal trainers, have developed a wide range of menus, exercise and stretching programs, and other content designed specifically for SIA customers.

Starting in January 2022, the partnership's first wellness menus and content will be available on flight SQ37, the direct service from Los Angeles to Singapore, starting in January 2022. The program will gradually expand to include SIA's nonstop services from San Francisco, New York, and Seattle to Singapore.

How do airlines stand out from their competitors?

Technology should make travel easier without turning the passenger into an anonymous traveler.

The companies capable of humanizing the use of technology are those who manage to anticipate the expectations of their customers and retain their passengers. And it is with these companies that passengers want to fly.

Customer experience is the pure driving force behind the aviation industry and increasing brand loyalty. If a customer has a bad travel experience, they will not prefer to travel with the same airline again. Likewise, a happy customer is bound to return and be loyal to the airline. How can airlines improve the customer experience?

It is crucial for any airline to ensure that its customers are well supported before, during, and after their journey. Who wouldn't like to have a permanent personal assistant? Thanks to mobile technology, all of this can be made possible. Through surveys, companies can get in touch with their passengers and obtain their opinions at all stages of the journey. This feedback helps airlines develop strategies to improve their various services as well as other marketing strategies. This can be easily achieved through apps that integrate all the data into one place. Let's see how this can be set up.

1. Before the flight

Before flights, while customers wait to board, airlines can offer surveys to get their feedback on their booking experience. What websites do they use to book? If their booking experience was smooth, if they got the seats they wanted, if they are traveling for personal or business reasons, if they prefer business class or economy class, etc. Airlines will be able to get an idea of their customers' flying habits, whether they prefer sites that offer discounts or whether they use the company's website to book, etc.

Customers are more likely to respond to surveys during their wait time than after the trip.

2. During stopovers

When customers change flights and have more time to board their next flight, airlines can conduct surveys of their layover experiences. This includes their first flight experience, the facilities provided during the layover, such as food, accommodation, or lounges, etc. Feedback from dissatisfied customers is always a bonus for airlines, as it gives them the opportunity to improve. Customers are more likely to take surveys during layovers because they have free time and are willing to provide feedback.

3. While traveling

Perhaps the best time to engage with customers is mid-flight. Airline crews and staff can take advantage of their free time to complete surveys with travelers and ask for their opinions on their in-flight experiences, such as seat comfort, entertainment, and crew etiquette, and find out what more customers would like to have to improve their in-flight experience. These surveys can also help companies identify gaps immediately and improve the experience in the future.

4. After landing

After their trip, overall experience surveys may be provided by the airlines. How was the service on board? The quality of the food? Did customers have difficulty retrieving their luggage? Did they travel with the same company again? How often, etc. are some of the questions that may be asked of customers.

With all this data, airlines gain insight into the customer experience, customer reactions, their frequent flyers, and their loyal customers. Investigations are essential at all of these stages.

How to measure customer experience?

Measuring customer satisfaction before and after deploying the strategy is essential. A customer audit will identify the priority actions to be implemented. Then, by setting a clear definition of the objectives, we can evaluate whether or not they have been achieved in order to identify the corrections to be made to the action plan to continuously improve it.

To monitor the evolution and relevance of current actions, we can refer to reference KPIs and calculate the ROI of the strategy. Of course, you will have to choose indicators adapted to our objectives. I personally recommend these three KPIs be considered as references in the study of customer satisfaction:

The NPS or Net Promoter Score

This indicator is used to determine the propensity of your customers to recommend the company. In other words, we seek to know which parts of your customers are more likely to speak well or badly about your products, services, and company to those around them. The KPI results in the integration of one or more questions within the satisfaction survey, such as:

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company to a friend, colleague, or family member?

The NPS thus makes it possible to segment the clientele into 3 categories:

  • Promoters
  • Passives
  • Critics

To improve the customer experience, the target of each action must be clearly identified. From this perspective, this segmentation makes sense, because you will be able to define a relevant action for each category of customers.

Then, in the medium and long term, the indicator will participate in the evaluation of the strategy.

The CES or Customer Effort Score

CES is used to define the rate of effort made by customers in order to carry out an action, such as contacting customer service or finding information on your website. It takes the form of a question integrated into the satisfaction questionnaire, such as:

  • What level of effort did you have to put in to get your question answered?

It thus makes it possible to work on the ergonomics and simplicity of acquisition and loyalty channels. The less effort customers have to put in, the more you eliminate the friction points or pain points that alter the conversion rate.

The CSAT or Customer Satisfaction Score

Finally, the CSAT is an effective way to assess customer satisfaction on specific points. It can be measured by adding a question to a satisfaction survey, such as:

  • Overall, are you satisfied with the product?

This KPI is very relevant for auditing each point of the customer journey. Thanks to it, we can evaluate the efficiency of the services offered to customers or the agreement between the last product offered for sale and the expectations of passengers.

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