As it appeared in the Daily Nation on January 26th 2016
I had the opportunity to work in the airline industry. The complexity of this industry baffled me and to-date it still perplexes. Do customers really like to fly? What do they like? What don’t they like? Why are they charged different fares? Why are the no-frills airlines having high passenger numbers despite having the most customer complaints? These are just some of the questions of interest.
Simply stated, airlines offer transport from point A to B. It is a service that is offered with many other considerations. A top consideration is safety. Other considerations include pricing, on-time performance, inflight experience, airport services, baggage service etc. There are numerous customer interactions before leaving point A, during the journey and after getting to point B. The interactions happen during booking, security-checks, immigration, check-in, lounges, boarding, inflight, disembarking, baggage service among others. It is as a result of these many interactions that every customer who has flown has some experience to share.
The first time I flew, I was scared and excited in equal measure. As a young employee, I was lucky enough to be in the company of my then manager. He was a frequent flier and the orientation I received from him was better than the one I received on my job when I joined his department. Unfortunately though airlines give no orientation to first time passengers. Most are unaware of first time travellers and they do not bother to explain unique features of the experience.
It is unlikely that customers like to fly for the sake of flying, many fly because they need to get to point B fast enough. These customers also want the best value for their money. No frills low cost airlines such as Jambojet in Kenya, Fast Jet in East Africa, Easy Jet in Britain, Sprint airlines in the USA and the like continue to cut out a niche for themselves. Sprint airlines for example is known to have a fully unbundled or bare fare requiring passengers to pay for everything separately including overhead space. Customers like the low price but not at a service that is below expectation. Many low cost airlines have to deal with disgruntled customers. Nonetheless airlines such as Southwest a local USA airline continue to different itself by focusing on the customer, the 1st and 2nd bags still fly free and there is no charge if you change a flight a complete opposite of Sprint.
To unravel the complexity of the industry, each airline requires a good understanding of its target customers and giving them what they really want. If they want bare fares give it to them, if they want to travel business class at a premium price that too is in order. However, whether travelling low cost or business class, passengers want to be treated with courtesy and respect. They also want on time departures and regular updates in case of delay. The greatest lesson I learnt working in the industry is that passengers waiting at airports are often under stress. It is no wonder United Airways has gone to the extent of introducing comfort cum therapy dogs in airport to relieve such stress. Welcome onboard!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy