Gone are the days of travel agents, fancy meals, and cigarettes at 35,000ft. The highly debated Aviation Industry has experienced several growing pains, while pushing the boundaries of digital transformation for the last century. In 2019 pre-pandemic times, this behemoth global market was estimated at over $800 billion in annual revenue with over 4.5 billion passengers. To curate a more specific take on modern Aviation, this blog will concentrate on the end-to-end customer experience for your average passenger.
The first step in this use case is purchasing a ticket. For most non-business travel the booking process has evolved from calling or visiting a travel agent, to utilizing an online booking tool either via the airline directly or via a 3rd party provider. The travel e-commerce industry has carved out a strong market by making it easy for customers to search across airlines, timeslots, and ticket prices based on their needs or preferences. Companies like Booking.com, Expedia, Kayak, and many others have packaged this service along with car rentals and lodging to provide a one-stop shop for travel needs. “Nice-to-have” perks like finding the cheapest available direct flight or identifying the best time to purchase a ticket have become differentiators in saving customers both time and money.
The check-in process has also been vastly improved. Beginning 24 hours before takeoff, carriers will send an automated email indicating it’s time to check-in online or via their app. Customers are given the option to pre-check bags, change seats, or even reschedule flights in case severe weather is expected. Once you arrive at the airport it’s easy to identify tens or hundreds of other digital improvements all aimed at making the travel process more secure, enjoyable, and efficient. For example, in place of paper tickets airline apps enable an electronic ticket for ease of use. For those who still prefer paper, you can walk right up to the carrier’s kiosk to perform many of the functions that previously required a desk agent.
Next in the customer experience journey is passing security, which continues to be a priority for air-travel especially in the United States post 9-11. Its not uncommon for long queues to form so pre-clearance options like TSA Pre-check, CLEAR, or Global Entry can help to avoid the worst of these backups. Machinery on the TSA side has also dramatically improved over the past 20 years, with more efficient baggage checks and the use of body scanners vs. metal detectors. You may be surprised to know that Global Entry & NEXUS in various airports are already employing Facial recognition to completely remove the need for a hardcopy passport. This technology has been in-use abroad for a handful of years and is just recently becoming more accepted in the United States.
The in-flight experience has also undergone a multitude of changes in recent years. The evolution of the airplane seat is well depicted in this video (https://www.travelandleisure.com/video/history-of-the-airline-seat). True, the first class cabins have in many ways become less luxurious, but the coach/economy class tickets have also been impacted. As competition has increased the number of passengers and available space on an aircraft is one of the most heavily optimized processes in the entire end-to-end flow. Seat width & pitch (distance from any point on the seat to the exact same point in the seat in front or behind) have reduced as airlines look to bring in more passengers per flight. To combat these impacts to comfort, airlines have pushed entertainment out of 1940s live entertainment to large film screenings in the 1960s. By 1988 the first individual screens were implemented in headrests, but it was not until the 2010s that personal device entertainment & wifi become standard.
Next, lets consider how a customer gets from their residence to the airport or back. There are a multitude of ground transportation options available including: Drop-off, drive & park, taxi, train, etc. My own personal preference is to leverage ride sharing services such as Uber or Lyft. Early morning flight? No problem, you can easily schedule the Uber ahead of time right on the app and even indicate which airline or terminal you’ll be departing from. Cost can be a prohibiting factor when leaving the airport, as I’m sure many of you have faced recently. In Boston for example, ride sharing prices spike especially at night when the public transportation shuts down, so taxis end up being the most popular option:
Throughout this post I’ve touched on some critical areas of improvement with a specific focus on the customer experience. However, this is a vast topic to explore, and I’d be interested in hearing what other digital enhancements you find beneficial to the airline customer experience? What areas are lacking?
- https://imagikcorp.com/brief-history-flight-entertainment/ .