5 ways airlines can turn flight delays into positive experiences

Airlines know all too well that disruptions will take place. But while they are inevitable, there are ways for airlines to turn these travel downers into positive experiences.

Airlines have valuable data for merchants at the airport or in the local areas where travelers are congregating. They know how long the traveler will be stuck in that location. Where they are. And they know many of their preferences.

Armed with this information, airlines can make arrangements with local merchants to help make the traveler’s delay more palatable. Here’s a sampling of what’s possible:

  1. Convenient eats. The airlines should partner with the merchants at the airport to offer a food service. If I am traveling with my family, very often I will want a steak, my wife may want a salad and the two kids will want hamburgers – all from different establishments. Why not offer a service that would make arrangements to secure the food from the restaurants and have it ready in one location not far from the gate where we land? We could use an airline-branded card to pay for the food and even redeem frequent flier miles if we wanted. We may not be happy we’re delayed for three or four hours, but having a meal ready can ease some tension, especially for families traveling with young children.
  2. Better communication and coordination. The airlines can also get more proactive with their communications to travelers during delays. For example, some airlines will text me when a connecting flight is delayed, which puts me at ease because I know I won’t miss the connecting flight. They could also partner with a food service so a meal is ready for me during the delay for the connecting flight.
  3. Offsite excursions. If the airline knows the traveler will be stuck at the airport for the better part of a day, why not partner with some of the local merchants for deals. For example, if somebody gets stuck at Dulles Airport, offer them a complimentary ticket for the shuttle bus to the Smithsonian’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, just 10 minutes away. The traveler will still be annoyed they are delayed, but at least they will have enjoyed something great about the local area they visited on business.
  4. Marketing opportunities. If a traveler gets stuck in Denver or Chicago and it’s snowing or very cold, the airline can send special offers to the traveler’s phone for vacations to warmer destinations like Hawaii, Florida or the Caribbean.
  5. Social networking. Since I travel to weather-prone areas a great deal, I often wind up getting stuck at the airport. It would be great to have a Facebook or professional LinkedIn group I could tap into during these situations to find out if others are stuck as well. Fellow businesspeople might find either camaraderie or unexpected business opportunities by meeting fellow colleagues and business associates in an airport lounge or the airport’s watering hole.

All of these ideas are possible, and some are already a reality. For example, Deliveroo has arrangements at airports in Amsterdam and Dubai to offer its food service to travelers. Expect many more services like these in the months and years ahead.

Remember that travel disruptions are inevitable, and travelers will be annoyed by them. But airlines have the opportunity to turn these situations around and create brand loyalty. A traveler may remember they were stuck at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, but the memory may be more pleasant if they can get a deep-dish pizza delivered right to the gate, or take a visit to the Museum of Industry during a long stayover.

By thinking creatively and out-of-the-box, airlines can turn these situations around and create customers for life.

Troy-Curtis-headshotTroy Curtis was Global Loyalty & Service Disruption offering leader responsible for the delivery of airline travel services at DXC.


  1. Neeraj Sethi says:

    Very useful and practical suggestions. I can definitely see the practicality of some of these getting implemented at some of the busiest airports in India where delays are common.

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