Simplify and fly right

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There’s something amiss in the air.

Well, more on the ground, really. It’s called irregular operations among airline industry professionals, and it’s what’s keeping you from reaching your destination. It’s also what’s adding complexity to air travel and what certain airlines have the most trouble getting a handle on vis-à-vis improving their customer experience.

IROPs are what happen when air transportation goes wrong, from delays to cancellations and everything in-between. When you think about the complexity of commercial aviation operations—coordinating international flight paths 24 hours a day, facilitating on-time departures and arrivals, shuffling mountains of passenger baggage and herding travelers through airport security—it’s astounding to note the relative infrequency of such happenings. There’s also the battery of bureaucratic entities on whose cooperation these maneuvers hang. When it all works, air travel really is a marvel of human ingenuity.

But when it doesn’t…good luck, fair traveler. Because you’re on your own.

A few months ago, I stopped off at Heathrow while flying British Airways en route to Barcelona. Three lines and more than three hours later, I was finally able to ascertain whether or not I would be arriving at my destination that day.

I wasn’t.

So where were all the informative signs, the assurances of a solution, the service? From flawed information displays to customs officers’ incorrect advice to wild goose chases across the airport, it seemed that nothing was particularly well coordinated. Especially the harrowing, ultimate line at the ticketing counter, which offered little in the way of explanation or rescheduling options. Having already tried various Internet and phone avenues, I could only wait there for my sentence.

Now, I don’t fault BA entirely for the mess. In fact, they’re usually spot on, as evidenced by their respectable ranking in the U.K. section of Siegel+Gale’s 2012 Global Brand Simplicity Index. Plus, there are other controlling entities to consider, which may not give BA the final say on how to run aspects of its irregular operations. But the airline can certainly simplify the unexpected complexities that arise through better, more frequent communications that put passengers at ease and guide them through the process. Or by taking more revolutionary steps like automatic rebooking prompts via timely smartphone alerts. Anything to help a passenger get from point A to point B without forcing them through point Z.

As an industry, air travel has seen its share of hardship. As such, it has never been able to achieve the type of simplicity that other industries such as Internet search engines have. But the true measure of an airline is how it deals with adversity like irregular operations. These issues provide the perfect opportunity to prove to passengers that they are valued and cared for, despite the perks long absent from the air travel experience. Only a process involving consistent, plain language communication between employees and passengers—with a bit of help from information displays—can properly filter the complexity of IROPs into simplicity.

Miles Seiden is a senior designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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