The Eagle Knight
A Conversation with Dr. Andres Conesa Labastida, Chief Executive Officer, Aeromexico
Aeromexico, a leader in Latin America and a symbol of Mexican modernism, celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. Through the years, it has been the airline of choice by many prominent figures such as the presidents of Mexico and Pope John Paul II, on his first trip to Mexico.
As Mexico’s flagship airline, Aeromexico has been nothing short of a trendsetter in its region. It was the first airline in Mexico to incorporate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which it uses on routes from Mexico City to London, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. It was also the first to:
- Offer an all-inclusive travel package (Gran Plan),
- Implement a frequent flyer program (Club Premier),
- Become a founding member of a global alliance (SkyTeam),
- Allow passengers to use electronic devices throughout its entire flights.
An airline rich with Mexico’s history and culture, Aeromexico proudly displays a cuāuhtli (meaning eagle knight or eagle warrior) as part of its logo. Eagle knights were a special class of infantry soldier in the Aztec army, and the cuāuhtli symbol denotes strength, competitiveness and remembrance. These attributes are deeply embedded in Aeromexico’s identity.
In a recent interview with Ascend, Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa shares his views on several airline industry topics, such as customer experience, airline retailing, differentiators and innovation.
First Dreamliner Operator In Mexico
Among its many firsts, Aeromexico was the first airline in Mexico to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is used to serve several major destinations, such as London, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo and New York, from the airline’s Mexico City home base.
Question: What are some characteristics that distinguish Aeromexico as one of the best airlines in the world?
A: Some of the main characteristics that have distinguished us around the world are our products and services, employees’ hospitality, connectivity network, modern fleet and customer-loyalty program.
Q: What are your most competitive advantages?
A: Our connectivity network, alliances, and wide products and services list that fit every travelers’ needs gives us an advantage over some of our strongest competitors.
Q: What strategic measures have you taken during the last couple of years to remain a leader in your region and secure your airline’s future?
A: Some of the most important strategies we have set up are:
- Fleet renewal — We have placed an order for 100 modern Boeing aircraft. This investment will give us a total of 19 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, as well as 90 Boeing 737 Max aircraft. We have already incorporated eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners, renewing our passengers’ travel experience on our routes offered from Mexico City to several prominent international destinations, as well as Monterrey, Mexico.
- Growing connectivity — During the last three years, we have added more destinations to our connectivity network, giving our customers more than 80 worldwide destinations in three continents, as well as connecting them to some 1,000 major international cities through the SkyTeam alliance.
- Strengthening Monterrey as one of our main hubs — We currently offer direct flights from Monterrey to 25 destinations, including Houston, New York City, Miami and Tokyo, as well as three codeshare flights operated by our partner, Delta Air Lines, from Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles.
- Hospitality — We have put strategies in place to improve our hospitality, such as electronic devices for a faster boarding process, as well as the SMILE program, a loyalty-management system that gives every frontline employee an individual quarterly score.
- On-time performance — We have also built a strategy around on-time performance. If our customers don’t reach their destinations when they expect to, it’s not taken lightly. We want our customers to know we care and empathize.
The Eagle Knight
Keeping with the spirit of Mexico’s rich history and culture, Aeromexico’s aircraft tails don a cuāuhtli, which symbolizes strength, competitiveness and remembrance.
Q: Passengers and their travel experiences are your airline’s primary concern. What are some practices that ensure high standards and superior quality at every passenger touchpoint?
A: Some of our best practices that ensure our standards remain high include:
- Developing new benefits to reward our customers and build loyalty,
- Constant two-way communication with customers to ensure we’re exceeding their expectations,
- Crew training,
- On-time performance,
- Growing our network connectivity,
- Maintaining and strengthening our alliances,
- Continuous fleet maintenance to ensure our aircraft are safe, smooth and reliable.
Q: How do you measure your quality levels with your customers to ensure they meet customers’ expectations?
A: We have developed a strategy to get feedback from every passenger who is willing to share so we can understand and measure our weaknesses and strengths, as well as to keep improving and developing new products that satisfy our passengers’ needs. To do so, we deploy an electronic survey on every one of our flights to recover our travelers’ feedback and keep enhancing our daily services.
Q: Your customers come into contact with your employees at many touchpoints. How do you keep your employees motivated so they provide the best possible customer service?
A: Our top priority is to exceed the expectations of our customers and employees alike. Therefore, we have designed some strategies that help our employees excel, which, in turn, ensures they provide our customers with the highest level of service. Those initiatives include:
- Breakfast with executive board — An activity that enables employees from different areas to interact with executives and share new ideas, results, perspectives and, most importantly, build a closer relationship with their leaders.
- Focus groups — This initiative gives all employees an opportunity to gather with an external consultant company to share opinions about Aeromexico’s internal and external weaknesses, promoting participation from each attendee without being fearful of judgment or reprimand.
Q: What is your Gran Plan program? How is it different from what other airlines offer?
A: Gran Plan is our all-inclusive packages program, where passengers can purchase air tickets in premier class or economy from Mexico City to more than 80 destinations, as well as accommodations from one to 20 nights at the best hotels and resorts. The plan also includes additional services such as breakfast, ground transportation and tours.
The difference starts with the wide connectivity network we offer our passengers flying out of Mexico City, enabling them to choose between business and leisure class to a variety of cultural destinations that make their trip suitable to their individual timing and budget. At the same time, Gran Plan provides different travel options such as Gran Plan Shopping, Gran Plan Sports and Gran Plan Business to satisfy the needs and desires of all passengers.
Q: Ancillary sales generate significant additional revenue for many airlines. What is your airline’s philosophy about airline retailing?
A: We provide our customers a complete travel experience on every flight. We offer a complete and unique service that includes a free onboard entertainment system, complimentary food and beverages in flight, as well as VIP lounge access for frequent flyers at no cost.
Our philosophy regarding ancillaries is to offer additional specific products and services to satisfy every passenger’s needs. We give them a choice so they can build their own trip based on their personal desires and budget. Therefore, we have developed a new income strategy, charging extra fees for pets in the cabin; an extra-baggage allowance; AM Plus (charging for seats on emergency exit rows, as well as the first rows after premier class); AM Concierge (a special call center that assists our passengers throughout their travel, giving them the best travel options).
Flying In Comfort
Aeromexico has invested in new Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners, as well as new 737-800s with up-to-date Boeing Sky Interiors that offer more comfort, more legroom and seatback flat-screen entertainment systems. The airline offers economy-plus and business-class seating on all flights. Between New York and Mexico City, it offers lie-flat seats in business class on the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
Q: How do you attract passengers, retain them and turn them into loyal customers?
A: We provide a world-class service, matching our products to our customers’ travel needs, as well as offering a variety of services. We also reward passengers’ loyalty by giving them specific upgrades. We give them ample opportunities to provide feedback so they know we genuinely care about them and their end-to-end travel experience, and that we are willing to listen and make changes based on their feedback. Basically, we do all we can to make every customer feel special and valued.
Q: Your airline is structured into three market segments — businesses, beaches and borders. What do these market segments mean, specifically?
A: Today, our business segment (business) represents close to 80 percent of our daily and annual income. Moreover, our leisure segment (beaches) represents the second most important income source due to the wide connectivity network that allows our passengers to visit some of the most amazing cultural, gastronomical and natural destinations.
In addition to these two important segments, we also focus our commercial strategies on passengers who travel regularly between Mexico and the United States (borders). Last year, we incorporated AM Contigo, which offers more benefits to our passengers, such as personalized services at check-in counters and call centers, the possibility of traveling with bulky luggage and more attractive prices, among many others.
Q: Technology is constantly evolving, and new technology is frequently unveiled. What are some recent technological advancements you’ve incorporated that have a positive impact on your customers?
A: Recently, we deployed a technological renewal of services, which can be reflected on our new website platform; web check-in; e-ticket reader devices; a new check-in system and in-flight WiFi, making all our processes easier to access and navigate. At the same time, our passengers can interact with a more-friendly platform to search, purchase, compare and accommodate their trip to their specific needs, as well as be connected at all time.
Remaining A Leader In Mexico
One of several strategic measures Aeromexico has taken to remain a leader in its region is to strengthen Monterrey, Mexico, as one of its main hubs.
Q: In which areas across your airline do you rely most on technology to operate more efficiently and effectively? How, specifically, does technology help in these areas?
A: Nowadays, Aeromexico has developed a technological renovation in several different areas of the company to ensure that all procedures endure efficiently. Some of the areas with recent changes are:
- Marketing online — Deploying an aggressive strategy to capture customer data and interact with our clients, making our products suitable to their demands and current trends;
- Maintenance — Ensuring that all safety and maintenance procedures work well and are aligned with the highest standards, with the main intention to preserve our passengers’ integrity;
- IT — Incorporating new platforms allows our passengers and employees access to the most updated technology. This gives our employees the latest tools to work effectively and efficiently, as well as provides our customers with easy-to-use, self-serve technology.
Q: How has your airline contributed to technological innovations in the industry?
A: We have contributed to Mexico’s airline industry by being the first airline in the country to implement in-flight WiFi. We were also the first Mexico-based airline to introduce the Boeing 787 for both domestic and international operations. Moreover, in partnership with Delta Air Lines, we have built the biggest maintenance, repair and overhaul base in Latin America, located in Queretaro, Mexico.