Conclusion

The culture of aviation is fundamentally conservative and for good reason. If a car’s engine gives out mid-trip, that can be inconvenient and, in some circumstances, dangerous. If a jet engine gives out mid-flight, the consequences can be catastrophic. Pilots understand the seriousness of the basic risks inherent in their profession. They do not lightly assume unnecessary additional risks.

Aviation is a risky business to be in as well. Airline executives know, from long and bitter experience, that circumstances they do not and cannot control — and sometimes could not possibly predict — can devastate a company’s balance sheet within a terrifyingly short time.

Technologies come and go — promising fundamental change — most of them are quickly swept under the carpet, sometimes along with an airline or two that guessed wrong, invested too much, jumped too soon.

For airlines, a tenacious adherence to cost-cutting makes sense, but, at some point, it becomes counterproductive; a focus on costs begins to obscure the focus on the customer. Passengers do not want to overpay, but they also do not want to be underserved. They are seeing technology being used in other industries to increase choice, personalisation and comfort — they want all these when they travel as well.

Demand for an improved travel experience is well-documented, as is the increase in satisfaction when some of those demands are met. The J.D. Power 2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, released in mid-May, shows a positive trend in how customers feel about the airlines. Rebounding from a 2009 trough of 658 on a 1,000-point scale, customer satisfaction with the airlines reached a record high of 712. This still puts them well behind not only hotels (777) and rental cars (775), but even mortgage lenders (771).

In the press release that accompanied the study, Rick Garlick, J.D. Power’s global travel and hospitality practice lead, cited technology upgrades — such as onboard Wi-Fi and improvements in check-in procedures — as one of the factors helping to lower customer dissatisfaction with high air travel costs. Clearly, customers are willing to pay more if they get what they perceive to be better value.

Customers want solution providers: when moving from point A to point B is the problem, an airline provides the solution. When a trip involves any number of additional problems, the more of them that can be solved the better — preferably even before the traveller is aware that a problem exists.

Smooth the flight and the customer is grateful. Make the flight an experience that feels personal, one during which the customer feels cared for, and the customer is loyal. Accomplish this across all segments of a trip and the customer is astonished — both grateful and loyal. And that’s great for business.