Air­lines strug­gling to sat­isfy needs, re­quire­ments of mod­ern pas­sen­gers

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY KERRY SHERI­DAN

What does the mod­ern air trav­eler want? Is it the per­fect sized car­ryon? A wear­able de­vice that tells you how to avoid jet lag? Free Wi-Fi? Cheap flights? Bet­ter ser­vice?

Air­lines are strug­gling to keep pace with the finicky de­sires of to­day’s pas­sen­gers, many of whom are con­stantly con­nected to a mo­bile de­vice and want some­thing spe­cial on each trip.

Dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion Tues­day at the an­nual meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (IATA), the largest trade group for air­line ex­ec­u­tives, hun­dreds of in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives were asked in a quick in­for­mal poll how many think air­lines are do­ing a good job meet­ing pas­sen­ger de­mands.

Fifty-five per­cent pressed “no” on their hand­held de­vices.

So what should air­lines be do­ing dif­fer­ently?

“Don’t give me a vanilla ex­pe­ri­ence,” said pan­elist Lee McCabe, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive with Ex­pe­dia who is now Face­book’s head of travel.

“Make the in­for­ma­tion you give me very per­sonal,” he said. “Make my life easy.”

Alex Cruz, CEO of the low-cost Span­ish air­line Vuel­ing, said his com­pany strives to keep it sim­ple.

“They want a nice, re­li­able ex­pe­ri­ence at a nor­mal price,” he said.

The key to keep­ing pas­sen­gers happy is “man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions,” he added.

Qan­tas chief ex­ec­u­tive Alan Joyce said “ev­ery cus­tomer wants some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

The key to an in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence is al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to de­cide on which perks they re­ceive, he said.

“Let them de­cide what they want. Let them pay for what they want,” Joyce said.

Ac­cord­ing to Jen Durkin, CEO of Project Travel, mil­len­ni­als don’t want healthy snacks or free Wi-Fi.

“Mil­len­ni­als are cu­ri­ous, and be­cause there are so many things that dis­tract our at­ten­tion we need help un­der­stand­ing what we should put our at­ten­tion to,” she said.

For in­stance, she sug­gested air­lines of­fer pas­sen­gers a be­hindthe-scenes view of their suit­case as it moves through the air­port ma­chin­ery.

“I want to know what my bag is do­ing from the time it goes in the con­veyor belt lit­tle door to the time it comes out of the con­veyor belt,” Durkin said.

If smartphones are ev­ery­where in the air­port, then so are the op­por­tu­ni­ties to use them to en­cour­age peo­ple to shop.

“The per­ma­nently con­nected trav­eler is an op­por­tu­nity for air­lines, air­ports, other ser­vice providers to im­prove their of­fer­ings,” said Tom Wind­muller, IATA se­nior vice pres­i­dent for air­port, pas­sen­ger, cargo and se­cu­rity.

“We will be able to learn more about our pas­sen­gers and be able to of­fer them more tai­lored in­for­ma­tion to their needs,” he added.

The Per­fect Bag?

Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, Wind­muller an­nounced a new in­dus­try­wide stan­dard for carry-on bags, an idea that aims to re­solve bickering and de­lays over whether any given suit­case is too big to fit in the over­head bin.

Many air­lines have dif­fer­ent size re­quire­ments for carry-ons, which can lead to con­fu­sion.

“This is a nui­sance for ev­ery­one,” he said, adding that the siz­ing bins many air­lines place near the gates are “ridicu­lous.”

So the IATA con­sulted with Boe­ing and Air­bus to come up with a stan­dard size: 55 cen­time­ters (21 inches) tall, 35 cen­time­ters (13.5 inches) wide and 20 cen­time­ters (7.5 inches) deep.

But whether this stan­dard will please con­sumers re­mains to be seen. It re­quires trav­el­ers to buy a new carry-on bag, which may be smaller than what they al­ready own.

The new bags will made by dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers and will be marked with a spe­cial la­bel, “IATA Cabin OK.” The la­bel is not avail­able to be placed on an ex­ist­ing bag.

Since de­lays cost air­lines money, Delta is work­ing on its own way of speed­ing up the board­ing process by hav­ing its crew mem­bers load pas­sen­ger carry- ons ahead of the flight. The ser­vice, called Early Valet, is free for now and be­gan this month at cer­tain U.S. air­ports.

An­other idea in the works is an air travel app, called SkyZen, that can be used with wear­able fit­ness de­vices to tell trav­el­ers about their ex­er­cise and sleep lev­els dur­ing the flight.

Even­tu­ally, IATA rep­re­sen­ta­tives said it will also of­fer ad­vice about how many steps to try for and how much sleep to get in or­der to avoid jet lag and have a health­ier fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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