Missing Link in Air Travel

It seems like air travel is slowly getting back to its pre-Covid days. People are flying for varied reasons. It has been a while since I travelled on a plane. In addition, I have been slow in noticing the back to normalcy state within the sector. I did not quite look forward to flying long-distance soon despite wanting to visit new places. As far as my work is concerned, I thought I had moved on to the virtual space. When my client requested for a face-to-face workshop, I considered it. I had imagined that the world had moved on with me. Instead of physical training sessions, workshops, conferences and meetings I thought virtual was the new norm and was here to stay.  Face-to-face interactions among human beings are powerful. Therefore, air travel is here to stay!

When I got to Addis, the crowd was like nothing I had witnessed at JKIA. It was my first time flying Ethiopian. It was evident that a lot had happened in the last decade. The pride of Africa seems to have been dislodged from its position. The new spirit of Africa was having the numbers and I bet smiling to the bank. I reflected on the past, the present, and the future of the sector. I wondered whether the price is the best differentiator. If low prices will bring the customers, will they keep them coming back? Should a low price mean a below average experience?

The cabin crew must have thought I was a “difficult” passenger until I made a purchase from the duty-free trolley and she was all smiles. I had wanted to make the same purchase on an earlier flight. Unfortunately, the crew informed me that the digits on my MasterCard needed to be hard for them to run the card. I still do not understand the reasoning behind this policy. I asked her to try running the card and she said a big no. I also complained that it took too long to clear the lunch dishes. I asked her to pick the tray from under the seat and instead of apologizing for the delay; she simply yelled “why did you do that?” I had barely eaten anything on that tray and needed to work on my laptop. The passenger next to me kept asking for a blanket and the cabin crew ignored him. I woke up from my seat and went to the food prep area to request for a blanket for my neighbor. Why were the staff unresponsive?

Maybe I should not even mention how disorganized the boarding and disembarking processes were. Why not ask everyone to remain seated and board / disembark a few at a time? Which airline in Africa has an exemplary customer experience? Which one ensures you use a wet wipe before you take every meal?  Which travel agency gives you a travel information pack? I believe travel agencies too are part of the air travel customer journey. The airport security staff, the immigration officials, the customs staff, the duty-free shops, the eateries, the lounges all make up the air-travel experience. Maybe hotels too should consider being part of air travel and send out prior information to their guests on what to expect when visiting from another country.  If I owned an Airline, I would differentiate it with a well thought out end-to-end exemplary experience.  We are 1.3B strong in Africa, I believe our airlines have an opportunity to handle our traffic and do so with elegance. Customer experience remains a missing link in air travel!

Dr Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via Twitter @KiruthuLucy

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