This article originally appeared in The Messenger.
You might be reading this on a flight.
In fact, a flight where you had to cram everything you needed into a backpack because you accidentally booked basic economy without realizing that it meant you were stripped of the right to a carry-on.
Had you known, you would have shelled out the extra $50 to not travel like a 20-something backpacker, boarding in the last group to the voice on the PA droning, “Now finally boarding: E for Extraneous, F for Forgotten,” …
How did this happen?
The culprit is: complexity. There is a vast array of airlines and their disparate ticketing, boarding, and baggage policies. And not only do policies differ across airlines, but they also differ across loyalty programs, tiers, flight origins and destinations, and even the platform you’re booking from. Passengers navigate through a maze of touchpoints before they ever set foot on a plane, only to then be asked to navigate security, hours-long wait times, delays, itinerary changes, missed connections, and lost luggage.
It’s no wonder that customer satisfaction with the industry is low. In a recent study surveying 15,000 consumers worldwide about which brands and industries provide the simplest (read: positive) experiences, the airline industry ranked low—largely due to confusion when an abrupt flight change or delay occurs, issues at arrival with lost luggage and other missed connections and simply understanding the benefits and policies of their specific ticket.
By taking a simplicity-first approach, airlines can resolve complexity and help alleviate some of the most stressful and painful moments throughout the passenger journey. Here are some examples:
Problem: Flight changes and delays. Solution: the connection concierge
What happens if your flight is delayed and arrives at the gate with not a minute left to spare to make your connection? Airlines could offer something like a Connection Concierge, a service that partners with airports to enable greater connection success.
Picture the following: flight attendants are made aware of passengers with a tight connection. These passengers are allowed to deplane before others to make it to Connection Carts that will transport passengers with tight connections or special needs to their gate, or even through customs, where there is a designated Connection Concierge line for those in danger of missing their connection.
If the connection is missed anyway, passengers can get a push notification to be automatically rebooked on the next flight to the same destination without having to wait in line. And if all else fails, airlines can engage with partners to develop a partner program to provide passengers who require overnight accommodations automatic bookings at partner hotels. And with how sophisticated customer relationship management technology is nowadays, much of the backend processes can be automated.
Problem: Misplaced luggage. Solution: the ”We’ve Got Your Back” capsule collection
Sometimes, addressing a problem isn’t just about fixing it but about how we fix it. In the case of lost luggage, airlines already do everything in their power to help get the lost baggage to their rightful owners, including ground shipment to their hotel or home. To make the experience less painful, airlines even provide a stipend for replacement clothing and toiletry kits—but what if airlines offered something that could turn an unfortunate and frustrating experience into an exclusive experience that can’t be bought?
An airline could partner with a mid- to high-end fashion and personal care brands to develop a capsule collection exclusively for passengers who have lost their bags. The collection could include items such as pajamas, hoodies, and socks, and would feature the airline’s branding. This collection could become a covetable asset that sets the airline apart from the crowd as a signature experience indicative of the brand’s elevated approach to caring for its passengers.
Problem: Booking ease and comprehension. Solution: Your AI travel agent
Booking a flight is a multi-step process that involves several steps: a preliminary search on Google Flights for ballpark costs, price comparisons on the airline’s site, and credit card travel portals for those who are points-maximizers. Many proceed with ricocheting between these sites repeatedly until the flight is booked.
But consider the following: the customer only ever gets a subset of the information they’re looking for throughout these touchpoints. Aggregators provide the basics, but so much are nuances on a per-airline basis that developing an interface for humans to navigate becomes ever more cumbersome as airlines continue to differentiate their offerings.
What if airlines could provide an AI-powered conversational booking assistant that helps customers navigate the complexity and simplify ongoing bookings? It could allow customers to set their constants (i.e., extra legroom for the tall folks) and intelligently prioritize other factors on a per-trip basis. A 3-night flight probably doesn’t require a checked bag, but a 2-week one likely will. A platform like this could not only help travelers with finding the right fare, but also be able to distill the nuances into an easy-to-understand summary that bypasses the noise to provide information on what really matters—the actual flight experience.
The key to alleviating some of these pain points in travel lies, as it often does, in differentiation through innovation. Differentiation helps create value through customer choice—but smart brands don’t just seek differentiation from their competitors in order to stand out. They also develop simplicity within their own offerings and through innovations to the benefit of their customers—simplicity creates value through experience.
There is a plethora of innovative and imaginative solutions that leaders in the airline industry may come up with to address their customers’ experiences. In an era that boasts of AI that grows in leaps and bounds, personal quantum computers, and record-breaking long-haul flights that can take people halfway around the world, you might be tempted to ask. . .will we ever have free Wi-Fi?
Amy Chen is Director, Experience