The age old question for business branding is usually the topic of creating consistent customer loyalty. Returning business is how they thrive and grow. Just because a business has a long history in a very competitive industry, that doesn’t mean your customers aren’t looking for greener pastures. We live in an age where consumer options are abundant.
The airlines are unique businesses in the sense that they are consistently required to compete against one and other and on occasion, follow the lead of the airline offering the cheapest fare. They will always challenge a competitor on pricing. However, poor product satisfaction became a deterrent for many consumers, in addition to an overwhelming demand for cheap, affordable fares. People no longer cared about the product; they wanted the best price from point A to B. In order to adjust their business models to the cheap ticket phenomena, many airlines cut back on amenities and decreased leg room by adding more rows with less comfortable seats. Flying has now becoming the equivalent to a Greyhound bus trip in the sky.
I think one problem with loyalty is the fact many passengers these days kind of harness a sense of entitlement and a high expectation when they fly. If they don’t get it, they look for other flying options, therefore abandoning any sort of loyalty they may have had for a particular airline.
You can’t really say the airlines haven’t been doing anything to retain or create loyal customers. I would probably agree that it’s a two way street between the airlines and their customers. Of course it needs to start and end with the airline but customers might benefit a little more if they have a firm understanding on how airlines operate.
Understanding and knowledge can enhance appreciation for an airline. This is for the consumer. Airlines make their money off of passenger frequency, meaning they depend a lot on repeat business and tend to isolate those who might only travel once a year. There are plenty of loyalty programs are surely out there, however, a majority of air travelers aren’t frequent flyers so the terms of those programs might read a little like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The airline isn’t ignoring that annual flyer; they just aren’t in a position or prepared to offer incentives to those who rarely fly.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. For me, I want an airline with a comfortable seat. If I know a particular airline is infamous for not having comfortable seats, I have no problem paying an additional $50 for one that does. That goes with just about anything related to my flying experience. I also pick airlines that have decent on board entertainment like seat back monitors. Remember, we as passengers are paying for a seat to sit on, not a bench. Perhaps if the airlines offer some type of first time flyer option they may make a good first impression on those who may not have flow their airline. Even a voucher for a free alcoholic beverage on board for adults or a $5 Starbucks gift card might perk more interest.
Your customer service stinks. This is probably the least cost effective repair an airline can make. Here is an example of a personal experience. I booked a flight on American Airlines once from Nashville to Orange County, California once. My wife had an overweight bag. It was only a few pounds over the limit, but it was still overweight and we understood that and were willing to pay the additional cost. However, the customer service rep at the ticket counter felt it was her job to belittle us and explain, rather rudely the policy of American Airlines and told us we would need to purchase another bag to transfer items out of the checked bag. We hopped out of line and went to the duty free store to purchase a $30, cheap, small duffle bag and proceeded to transfer items from the overweight bag to the duffle bag. We got back in line and again, we got belittled by the same rep and paid the cost for an additional checked bag. Now, we were understanding of the policy and completely willing to work it out but the unacceptable attitude of this rep rubbed us the wrong way. Ultimately, we never flew American again and to this day will avoid them at all cost. I will gladly pay extra to fly an airline with a good reputation for customer service.
Let’s see more non-stop options. This is the one gripe that I hear the most from people when it comes to airline loyalty. The hub and spoke system is the norm here in the U.S. I do think it’s a little past its prime. What might have seemed like a great idea then is no longer the case today. It’s become a nightmare for the traveler as well as the airlines. It not only causes the headache of connecting at a busy hub airport but it also has an impact on the schedule. For example, air traffic and tarmac delays are among the leading causes of late flights at hub airports like Newark and Chicago. There are just too many airplanes funneling into one airport at any given time. If you do manage to arrive early, the odds are your airplane will be instructed to sit in what they airlines call the “penalty box” This usually happens because your gate is still occupied by another airplane.