Fall reignites the travel industry with a number of global events, including this month the World Aviation Festival in Lisbon. Alongside regular conferences, we asked a number of CIOs and prominent thought leaders from the operations sector to assess the aviation space.
Besides the trending discussion topics around artificial intelligence, sustainability, biometrics, disruption management and climate change, here are three themes we didn’t expect – which were discussed at the conference, if you prefer.
Technology – back to basics
With the rise of ChatGPT last year, one might have expected that any conversation about technology would be a celebration of all things AI. And, while all respondents acknowledged that AI has improved specific processes and will continue to do so, most acknowledged the lack of use cases at present.
Instead, the focus has shifted to the short- and medium-term issues facing airlines around dynamic pricing and distribution, data ecosystems, and managing disruption.
The term “back to basics” has been used more than once and has been extended to themes such as:
- How to prioritize problem resolution: Navigate limited resources while identifying important issues facing the airline.
- The guiding principles for using technology effectively: ethics, regulatory bodies, the court of public opinion, and assessing customer readiness for adoption.
- How to better use the technology already available to airlines.
“Too often, airlines clutter their technology and go into debt by acquiring lots of tools but rarely using them to their full capacity,” Ted Hutchins, CIO of Norse Atlantic Airways, said in a session.
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Emphasis has been placed on an increased need for due diligence when creating or acquiring solutions. This included simple advice on streamlining internal communications; avoiding silos (easier said than done – depending on the vintage and size of the airline), keeping teams smaller and more agile; and being focused on solving problems without following trends.
A renewed focus on helping passengers self-service was mentioned and matches recent consumer reports behavior of millennials and generation Z which increasingly prioritizes technology over personal interactions on the day of travel.
Airline staff shortage
Although staffing shortages have been well documented, we were surprised to see how timely the topic was. Among airline executives, it has been repeatedly flagged as a critical problem that regularly turns nominal problems into a full-scale airline crisis.
Airlines have been heavily impacted by the pandemic due to the lack of customized, expensive rentals and grounded fleets. Based on federal regulations, many airlines have adopted survival strategies that have resulted in mass layoffs and early and partial retirement plans.
As the industry continues to recover (currently at over 80% of pre-pandemic volumes), airlines – particularly major carriers in North America and Europe – are reporting staff shortages.
To quote a senior American Airlines cabin crew member: “We can’t hire staff fast enough to keep up with demand. »
The problem is that most positions require – to some extent – specialized training, and the positions that don’t “are manual and often difficult jobs that don’t pay well – certainly not by exaggerated standards today,” said a Lufthansa executive.
Staff shortages in the travel market have also been hit by strong demand from employers in other sectors, a trend that only began to ease in the last quarter. In comparison, employment levels in other sectors have remained high throughout the pandemic – even supported by the pandemic. This shift in labor markets will make it difficult to attract a new generation of staff, likely extending the travel recovery period.
Empathy: making the journey human again
How can we make the travel experience more human? Empathy.
Empathy seems to be a catch-all term that means human connection and suggests an intentional approach on the part of airlines and suppliers ensuring passengers’ journeys.
In the debate between manual (human) and automated processes in an airline sales cycle, it is clear that empathy means something different at each touchpoint and should not be assumed to simply revolve around human interaction. Greater empathy in the journey should also be driven by effective problem solving; this may or may not involve speaking to an agent.
For example, what does greater empathy look like in the case of an irregular operations event (IROP), when passengers and staff are tired and tensions are high?
When performing sentiment analysis on travel reviews, more than a third focus on IROP events. Interestingly, the complaints are not about the fact that IROPs occur, as recent studies show that most people expect some sort of disruption on the day of travelbut rather how the disruption was managed.
One of the dominant emotions is helplessness. During a disruption (for example cancellation of a flight), the passenger’s discomfort and irritation are often expressed by a lack of action and information: they have a limited understanding of the situation and do not also has no say in the solution often proposed.
In an attempt to correct the situation, airlines typically migrate passengers en masse to the next commercially viable flight. However, airlines have informed us that up to 70% of them still contact an agent because the revised itinerary does not match their plans. Without knowing the ultimate value of the trip (why the passenger is traveling from point A to point B), it is impossible to understand the impact of the disruption on the passenger: the loss of time. And, for the airline above, 70% of the time the solution doesn’t solve the problem.
Empathy should be more of an action than a posture. At a bare minimum, the empathetic approach during an IROP event should provide passenger-led solutions, establishing agency and insight (some have called IROPs AI) at a time when most travelers are stressed.
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