Customer expectations in the airline industry: Reasonable or unreasonable?


While chewing the fat on the future of passenger technology with one of my industry mentors and PSS gurus, the topic turned to the antiquated processes we still service and what future behaviour may look like. He offered me a quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Naturally I drew a parallel between the quote and a blog I wrote some time ago about how millennials are changing our industry landscape at breakneck speed – and how our systems limp behind. In the middle, the long-suffering airlines – already confronted by complicated, costly distribution methods and low margins – now have a segment of customers demanding seemingly ‘unreasonable’ change.  But is it really unreasonable?

Exactly 20 years ago next month I started as a cabin crew member with a European flag carrier. I remember queuing to get paper tickets for staff travel. I remember paper passenger manifests with minimal details of your customers. And I remember pulling out the winter / summer schedule fares book that each of our aircraft carried (by Door 2, wasn’t it?). That was the state of ‘fare quote’ – availability was an entirely different problem. The fare was the fare unless you were lucky to find a discount with your local travel agent.

Fast forward 20 years — the millennial equivalent of me now turns to her smart phone to see what the fare from A to B is. She expects to check 10 or more travel sites and to see varying fares for the flight, and she’s perfectly comfortable with the concept of adding her ancillaries. Or she may only go to just one metasearch engine that farms out to all carriers serving the route, without any real data about herself, the searcher, being identified.

As an airline executive, this causes me a huge dilemma, does it not? One person asking 10, 20 maybe 100 different channels for fares on a single flight. Meanwhile, I am also providing anonymized offers to my customer through various channels. The dreaded look-to-books are skyrocketing, but my results – revenue passengers – remain roughly the same. It is costing me money.

So, reflecting on George Bernard Shaw’s axiom, I find myself asking whether it is unreasonable for millennials to shop around for the best fare, or whether the change they are forcing upon us is just a reality in a world where shopping choices are part of the culture?

What we know today as personalization is really only mass customization – some tailoring, but no real personalization. What millennials expect is true personalization, where previous behaviour and customer status with the carrier are taken into account.

I think it’s fair to say that in today’s world, especially as a legacy carrier with complex distribution relationships spanning alliances and codeshares, it’s not really possible to provide true personalization; rather, consumers will continue to see varying offers across different channels. The channel that can offer the most suitable offer (price and content) will be the one to prevail. Whether that turns out to be an airline portal or a specialized high-end travel agent remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that mega-searchers and screen scraping is unlikely to satisfy the discerning, experience-seeking millennial for very long.

Julia Reichel was Global Market Development, Travel and Transportation, Consumer Travel & Airline at DXC. She left DXC in April 2018. A dedicated Airline professional with nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, Julia has, since early 2017, worked in Market intelligence and Development with focus on interlocking with the global sales community and key clients. The core aspects of this role are market intelligence & strategy specific to Passenger Solutions, key client development, sales support for major net new label opportunities. Julia holds IATA ‘Airline Professional’ Certification with focus on Airline Marketing and Revenue Management as well as a private pilot’s license and IMC rating.


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