Cost-Effective Ways to Improve the Airline Passenger Experience – Part I

3 Strategies to Improve the Airline Passenger Experience

How can we improve the Airline Passenger Experience today?

Recently, we were on a trip to the South Central part of the country. The weather was so bad there we were stuck on the tarmac for over 2 hours. It got us thinking about air travel. About how fun it used to be. Gone are the days of legroom, blankets for the cold, free food, and pillows. Now, air travel means packed flights, having to pay ancillary costs for what used to be included in the price of a ticket and making it harder to use hard-earned travel miles. It’s understandable: a post 9-11 world coupled with thin profit margins, fuel costs, heavy regulation, and the need to attract a diverse demographic (it is great that just about anyone can afford to fly). With this in mind, what are some low cost strategies that can positively impact the passenger experience?  That can make it, again, fun to fly? Here are three research-supported strategies that work without having to carve into those thin profit margins:

  • Hire employees that have the attitudes and personality characteristics to manage difficult passenger encounters.

Outside of great fares, schedules, and on-time departures, what is one sure thing that can impact the passenger experience? It’s people! Think about the range of professionalism and hospitality you witness and experience from airline employees. Research in the Journal of Organizational Behavior finds employees who perceive passenger interactions as stressful are more likely to experience exhaustion, provide lower quality service, be absent more from work, and quit. Hiring employees with the ability to manage the stress and have the personality characteristics to use humor and empathy during difficult passenger interactions can improve the passenger experience while at the same time reducing turnover.

  • Incorporate humor in safety demonstrations.

We recently saw a safety demonstration that did exactly that. Guess what? We paid attention! In fact, research supports this: an experiment in the International Journal of Aviation Psychology compared three different pre-flight safety videos: no-humor, humor, and use of a celebrity. Passengers who experienced the humorous video were able to recall more safety information and procedures than the other two groups. Once more, the humorous video group’s mood and satisfaction with the flight was significantly higher than the standard and celebrity video groups.

  • Communicate the reasons for delays multiple times, and encourage passengers to occupy their time with something enjoyable or worthwhile.

On the recent tarmac weather episode, the Flight Attendants began to play games with the passengers. Sure there were some passengers that were pretty upset, but overall it changed the feel of the cabin and even though everyone was ready to deplane two hours later, the effort was truly appreciated. 77% of passengers wrongly attribute the reasons for a delay – often blaming the airline for an unavoidable delay. One of the simplest and cost-free things an airline can do to increase the passenger experience when faced with unavoidable delays is to do what this airline did: have as much fun as possible. Think of the decades old finding that mirrors make waiting in the elevator more pleasant because they encourage people to observe and occupy their time. In addition airlines should consistently provide as accurate as possible estimates for delays, and encourage passengers to do something fun or meaningful with their time. “We’ll be here for at least 20 minutes. This would be a great time to take a walk and get a drink or a magazine.”

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Learn more about building a positive passenger experience by hiring the right people.  We put together a whitepaper on hiring the right people for customer service.

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The Customer Is Not Always Right: Customer Aggression and Emotion Regulation of Service Employees. (2004). Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Examining the Effectiveness of Pre-Flight Cabin Safety Announcements in Commercial Aviation.  (2014).  International Journal of Aviation Psychology.

Waiting for Service: The Relationship Between Delays and Evaluations of Service.  (1994).  Journal of Marketing.

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