Airlines across the globe are introducing new ways to improve the flight experience, from better lounges, seats, healthier food and drinks, inflight entertainment upgrades, video on-demand, to wellness videos to reduce jet lag. Are these changes cosmetic or are they for real?
Today passengers have more choice and less patience than ever before, and they are increasingly eager to share their travel experiences with the world after a trip. Each traveler has become a well informed influencer to whom airlines have to pay attention. Only the airlines who grasp this very important fact will be successful at providing that they promise, the others will be providing public transportation just you local school bus or subway.
This trend means it is essential for airlines to focus on personalization and engagement with passengers at all points throughout their journey, says Bruce Randall, global director of travel at e-commerce software firm SAP Hybris.
Airlines can no longer assume that their websites will be the first place passengers visit when researching travel options, and they must accept the growing trend for customers to take to social media post-trip, to make their travel experiences – both good and bad – public knowledge.
To make travelers happy, the airline needs to engage with them at every step of the journey – before and after their first trip. Should airlines care at all about the experience their passengers had at their hotel or on any excursions they went on? Absolutely, whatever experiences they’ve had with the airline may reflect on whether or not they come back.
Randall suggests airlines should be using “social outlets” to “track and ascertain” whether passengers had a good trip with them, and to follow up on what they learn. “As an airline I can check in and say, ‘how did the trip meet your expectations’? And I can pull data to find out, what are they posting? What are they saying about it?” he adds.
A New Inflight Experience
Two weeks ago, on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Manchester to New York, there was something different in the air. If you inhaled as you boarded the plane, you might have detected a touch of citrus along with rose, eucalyptus and perhaps just a touch of lavender. It was the debut of London fragrance expert Rachel Vosper’s new plane scent.
From now on, across the 43-strong fleet, as passengers get on on their plane, they will be greeted by the smell of Air. Exclusive to the airline, a candle version of the scent will also be available to buy.
For Daniel Kerzner, VP Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic, who joined the company from the Starwood hotel group, it’s the start of a project that aims to set Virgin Atlantic apart from other airlines:
“When we’re looking for inspiration, we don’t look to other airlines, we take cues from hospitality, retail, restaurants and bars and from the entertainment industry. We want our customers to forget they’re on a plane 35,000 feet in the air and immerse themselves in the unique Virgin Atlantic experience.”
Wellbeing in the air is the newest battleground of the long-haul airline. On the other side of the world, Qantas—which is introducing a 17-hour non-stop flight from London to Perth this month—has teamed up with the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney to introduce a series of new initiatives. The start of the roll-out is timed to tie in with the airline’s introduction of Dreamliner flights in March 2018.
Says Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, “While the Dreamliner aircraft itself is already a step change for passengers with its larger windows, increased cabin humidity and lower cabin altitude, the findings that will come from Charles Perkins Centre researchers will allow Qantas to design and develop a range of new innovations and strategies to complement the Dreamliner experience.
“By taking a holistic view of our customers, our partnership will examine everything from reducing the impact of jet lag through to health, nutrition and sleep through the entire journey experience,” he adds.
First off the blocks is a new menu, devised by Qantas consulting chef Neil Perry to include probiotic drinks and cold-pressed juices. Menu options for business passengers will include tuna poke salad and crudites. In premium and economy, passengers are likely to see dishes such as marinated beef, cumin and zucchini salad and roast chicken with red rice and mediterranean vegetables rather than cream-soaked, carb-rich processed meals. All cabins will have fruit plates; in business and premium there will be a specially blended Qantas tisane that aims to enhance sleep.
Emirates said it will introduce a new Airbus A380 cabin interior upon receiving new aircraft in 2020. The Gulf carrier’s president Tim Clark promised a “transformation of the cabin” with these widebodies, to include new lighting, bathrooms and spas. Emirates will not introduce its new, fully enclosed first-class cabin on the A380 until 2021, however. That cabin was unveiled last year and has been installed on the airline’s latest Boeing 777s.
Clark says the first-class suite’s installation is “really difficult” and requires extensive certification efforts, which is why the equipment will not be ready when deliveries of the new A380s begin in 2020.
“Two or three” 777-300ERs have been delivered with the new configuration and are being deployed on routes to Brussels and Geneva. Both cities are served twice daily from Dubai, but with the current fleet it is possible to offer the new configuration on only half of the flights. The suites will also be installed on on-order 777X and 787 twinjets, Clark confirms. He says the airline’s 787-10s will “mainly” be configured with the first-class cabins.
New Inflight Entertainment
Cathay Pacific has introduced inflight yoga and meditation sessions. Split into six sessions, the series aims to demonstrate yoga and meditation routines that can be done before, during or after a flight. Exercises are designed to improve circulation, enhance joint mobility and relax the mind for a comfortable and restful journey.
For airlines that want to offer passengers video on demand to watch on their personal devices Wifi Technologies believes it has the answer. The Belgian company launched its Wifi Air TV product using a “very powerful wi-fi router” to stream pre-loaded content to passengers’ devices, and has a “huge memory” that can store up to 40,000 movies and TV shows, says president Yves Hendrickx.
Air New Zealand has developed an interactive online experience allowing travelers to explore New Zealand using emojis. Users will be asked to comment on Air New Zealand #EmojiJourney Facebook or Twitter posts with a combination of emojis which would best describe their perfect New Zealand gateway. This will then automatically generate a link to a personalised map of New Zealand for them, with emojis highlighting points likely to be of interest.
Clicking on each of the emojis on the personalised map will provide more information about destinations and activities on offer, such as food and beverage hot spots, shopping, art and culture, adventure pursuits and things to do in the outdoors.
New Lounge Experience
Carriers around the world, including the three largest U.S. ones, have been developing and opening new airport lounges, including specialized products for the highest level of premium travelers.
While-premium class seats are major passenger revenue drivers for airlines, lounges are more of a cost center, tools to attract premium travelers. Increasingly, airlines are realizing the importance of a consistent experience from the airport to the plane, he said.
American Airlines, for example, has opened four of its new Flagship Lounges — in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York’s John F. Kennedy International — and more are on the way in Dallas, Philadelphia and London.
The lounges include expanded seating, shower suites and such food and beverage amenities as a specialty cocktail bar and premium wines. Most of the lounges also provide a sit-down dining area for Flagship first-class passengers.
Over the past 18 months, Delta has opened flagship clubs in Atlanta and Seattle and Asanda Spa Lounges in Seattle, JFK and Atlanta. The carrier also has renovated its clubs in Newark and Minneapolis and expanded its club at Raleigh-Durham International.
Across many of its lounges, Delta has been expanding food and beverage options, including bars with craft beers, seasonal cocktails and sommelier-selected wines at about 20 locations.
United Airlines last year opened lounges in San Francisco and finished renovation and expansion of two in its Houston hub. The carrier has delayed the openings of some of its Polaris lounges –only Chicago is open — but expects to open them in San Francisco, Newark, Houston and Los Angeles this year. Washington Dulles, London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong will follow.