How airlines can get it right when things go wrong

IATA’s 2018 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) included insights on passenger preferences to manage disruption, offering compelling reasons why airlines and airports should aim to eliminate queues through self-service and automated options, even opening up the opportunity for airlines to profit if they handle disruption effectively.

According to the over 10,000 respondents who participated in this year’s survey, effective disruption management requires accurate and timely information, quick resolution of immediate needs, and ways to make the time spent waiting for the new flight more comfortable.

GPS finds that, when a flight is disrupted:

  • 54% of respondents said they want real-time, accurate travel notifications
  • 46% said they would like to be re-booked automatically, with new boarding passes issued on the spot
  • 39% said they would be comforted by face-to-face interaction with an airline agent who will help manage further travel details
  • 38% said they would like to receive hotel accommodation
  • 26% said they would like meal vouchers
  • 22% said they want information on airport services available including restaurant/retail and service concessions (massage, pedicure, shops, lounge access)
  • 17% want baggage tracking information
  • 15% want to get transportation from the airport

Related to these findings, passengers have clear preferences on the types of notifications they would like to get from airlines. While the majority still prefer to be notified by SMS, the percentage of passengers preferring SMS has dropped by close to 10% as notification via the airline or airport app rises in popularity.

Even when everything is going smoothly, passengers value information on their journey and services available.

  • 82% of GPS respondents said they want to receive flight status updates
  • 49% said they want information about their bags and insights on the wait time for delivery
  • 46% said they want to know the wait time to expect at security and border control checkpoints
  • 45% said they want information on any regulations or requirements that might affect their trip
  • 43% said they want to know the distance and time required to get to their gate
  • 39% said they want to know the wait time at arrival customs
  • 38% said they would like information on enhanced airport services available
  • 25% said they’d like to get information about their destination
  • 19% said they’d welcome more information on airline products and services that they could purchase during the trip

Some of these preferences overlap for regular and irregular operations, highlighting their importance to passengers.

By developing solutions for disruption management which include some automated services and other self-service options via the airline app, airlines will also have tools available that customers can select during regular operations either as a loyalty builder or as a revenue stream.

For example, automatic issuance of boarding passes, eliminating check-in, can be a time saver. Delta Air Lines already introduced auto check-in for Fly Delta app users, a simple solution that eliminates one more thing that travelers need to worry about.

Rhonda Crawford, vice president, global distribution and digital strategy for Delta said:

“Our customers have told us Delta can eliminate some of their stress associated with upcoming travel if they know their boarding pass is ready and can see their seat assignment.”

In the app’s ‘Today’ mode, customers can add checked bags, change seats and purchase upgrades. They can also enroll in the SkyMiles loyalty program.

While designed for regular operations, this type of service could easily be used to automatically re-book app users and issue new boarding passes. It’s a useful feature that might encourage more travelers to download and use the app regularly.

Airlines can add features related to disruption, such as digital hotel vouchers (think of a reservation card added to the user’s digital wallet) and digital meal vouchers with scannable bar codes for use at airport concessions.

Airlines could also issue confirmation of credits for upgrades that will not be available on the next flight, like extra legroom seating purchased. They could even develop a digital bidding feature for oversold flights, notifying customers of the airline’s need for volunteers early on, making a digital offer for the seat and perhaps letting customers respond with a counter-offer.

Airports can get creative too, offering information on their app on concessions which might be free to handle disruption. Which restaurant has the shortest queue and how far would it be from my next gate? What’s the wait time like at the manicurists? Are any of the shops offering discounts on needed items—like toiletries, basic clothing or other comfort items—to get through the disruption?

The definition of disruption is likely to shift in passengers’ view as Millennials age-up to become the core base of flyers. Already, their views of service “taking too long” might surprise airlines and airports. For example, the GPS report shows that they don’t want to take longer than 30 seconds to drop off their bags and don’t want to spend more than five minutes waiting for their bags on arrival.

They prefer electronic boarding passes and check-in using their smartphones because these solutions save time.

They are willing use biometric ID instead of a passport if the biometric ID will help them clear checkpoints faster.

They want to scan themselves onboard the aircraft and they want to be notified via the airline app of any interruptions to their journey.

If airlines fail to automate disruption, they might find these core customers are even less patient when things go wrong.

Yet, travel disruption is a given. Try as they might, airlines will never be able to control the climate and extreme weather events are becoming more common. Thinking of disruption as part of regular operations—by designing digital solutions for the worst-case scenarios—enhances service through blue skies and storms alike.


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