Can airlines do a better job of helping passengers deal with delayed or canceled flights and missed connections? Yes, says a major independent global study commissioned by Amadeus.
The new study appeals to the airline industry to take a fresh look at the familiar passenger frustration from delayed or cancelled flights. The goal, Amadeus says, is to drive loyalty and reduce the impact of 'irregular' operations on its customers.
‘Passengers first: Re-thinking irregular operations’, written by Norm Rose of PhoCusWright, aims to provide airlines with practical strategies to improve responses to irregular operations, Amadeus notes.
It urges airlines to place a greater focus on the impact of disruptions on each passenger’s trip experience as part of operational decision-making during times of disruption, Amadeus said.
The report argues that a customer-centric approach to handling irregular operations may overcome some of the disparities between how airlines and passengers can sometimes perceive delays, Amadeus said.
For instance, Amadeus says providing greater alternative travel choices for travelers that take into account their individual reasons for traveling, which in turn could positively affect future booking behavior. At the same time, the processes used to manage delays and cancellations today, including scheduling, customer communications and re-accommodation, often tend to be flight-centric, rather than customer-centric; something which the Amadeus report argues must change.
The study, which is based on interviews with leading academics, industry trade organizations and global airlines, also includes a survey of 2,800 travelers from Australia, Brazil, China, the UK, and the US, showing that delayed or cancelled flights meant that nearly one in five (18%) of all passengers surveyed could not fulfill the purpose of a trip booked in the past year (rising to a third in China).
Furthermore, among passengers’ most common frustrations was insufficient communication, something which may impact a traveler’s loyalty to a particular airline in the future.
Global airline passengers’ most common frustrations, include:
1. There was insufficient communication about what was happening
2. I was not offered any compensation
3. There was conflicting communication about what was happening
4. I was not able to fully achieve the original purpose of my trip due to the flight issue
5. I had to pay additional costs for alternative arrangements
Key findings from the Amadeus report:
• Deliver a standard service approach to disruptions: Airlines should consider incorporating a standard service approach to deal with passenger itinerary changes. When severe events occur, airlines with such an approach in place merely extend their processes to a larger number of travelers rather than attempt to implement a new, reactive process.
• Offer ‘intelligent re-accommodation’: Automated re-accommodation technology may provide efficiencies for the operational staff, but it does not always solve the underlying passenger itinerary disruptions. Airlines may want to implement an intelligent one-click solution that empowers passengers to choose alternatives most relevant to their needs. Airlines should also consider investing in systems to gain a greater understanding of each passenger’s preferences and reasons for traveling, including passengers who book through indirect channels.
• Provide transparent communication: In every market surveyed, except China, insufficient communication was cited as passengers’ top frustration with irregular operations management. Introducing an integrated, cross-departmental approach to customer service will enable airlines to provide authoritative, personalised, proactive communication – and lessen the need for travelers to rely on third-party sources.
• Moderate delays hurt the industry more than big ticket disruption: One of the greatest challenges facing airlines is not major weather or force majure events, such as the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted travel across Europe in 2011, but rather the far more regular moderate delays of 1-4 hours that matter most to customers. In all markets at least 50 percent of travelers have experienced a moderate delay on one or more flights in the past 12 months, with this figure highest in China (74%) and Brazil (67%). Instances of significant delay are far less common.
• Travelers are increasingly venting frustration via social media: Globally, around one third of travelers surveyed said they had posted comments about delays to their friends on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, with higher numbers sharing experiences amongst their immediate family or friendship groups using other means. The study calls on airlines to shift social media strategies from promotional activities alone, and to embrace analytical tools that help them to understand the impact of social comments made in relation to disruption. By following this analytical approach, airlines can practice social mapping to better understand the impact of disruption on their brand as well as the sentiment of their customers.
“Many airlines around the world have challenges in measuring the true cost of irregular operations on customer sentiment. Whilst carriers are aware of the direct costs associated with delays and cancellations – U.S airlines alone lost $7.2 billion as a result of disruption in 2012 – those figures do not tell the whole story,” said Rose.
“When travelers post negative messages on Twitter or decide never to book with a particular carrier again after being kept waiting for several hours at the airport, this results in an indirect loss of revenue for airlines which is often difficult to measure. A passenger-centric approach requires a re-evaluation of irregular operations management, to enable airlines to better serve customers and protect revenues," Rose said.
“This report tells us that at times of disruption, perhaps the first question an airline might ask is not how it can shift travelers from a cancelled flight to another, but rather how the delay impacts that person and their unique reason for traveling,” said Patricia Simillon, Head of Airlines Operations Strategy, Airline IT, Amadeus IT Group.
“To this end, there is a strong argument that passenger insight and choice should be integrated into the irregular operations process. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with our global airline partners in order to help them to refine, refocus and maximize their irregular operations procedures," Similion said.