Could the latest air travel consumer report actually hold lessons for us all?

The latest report released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has some interesting data to consider. Are there lessons from this report that can be applied more broadly across the industry?

I know it’s difficult to use something like this as a bellwether or litmus test for an entire industry, but sometimes it’s a thought-provoking exercise.

Let’s start with volume: in June 2022, flights increased to 584,000, and if you compare that with June 2020, when there were only 236,000 flights, we can celebrate. However, the increase to the number in June 2022 was still far from pre-pandemic figures; for comparison, consider that in June 2019 we saw 689,000 flights. Thus, that success in June 2022 was 16 percent below the more successful figures before the pandemic.

In trend now

If we dig deeper, we find something else that should cause concern. “DOT received 5,862 airline service complaints from consumers in June 2022, a 34.9 percent increase from the 4,344 complaints received in May 2022 and a 269.6 percent increase from the 1,586 complaints received in pre-pandemic June 2019 year”. So while volume appears to be moving in a positive direction, when we see complaints outpacing growth at these levels, we need to stop and ask if we as individual business owners see this as a positive.

Imagine you made a product, your company grew, but complaints about your product and company increased by almost 400 percent over the same period. If you were a CEO, you would probably have questions, and maybe you wouldn’t view growth as a success at all, in fact, you would view it as a defeat.

While the airline industry is not alone, teams across the travel, tourism and hospitality sector are struggling to understand a new set of numbers, new visitor behaviors and changes in attendance, occupancy and customer satisfaction. We can blame labor shortages, we can point to rising costs and a global economic slowdown, but at the end of the day, we have to take a hard look at ourselves, dig deep and admit that some of what we’re seeing isn’t as complicated as we want it to be.

Think about the following questions:

—Have we really listened to our customers more over the past few years, or have we decided to listen to ourselves even more?

— Have we adapted or even recognized that customer expectations after the pandemic may be different and higher than they were before the pandemic? For example, free cancellation was so well received during COVID-19, why did we come back so quickly?

—Have we finally decided to be the first to adopt technology that serves and helps customers, or are we implementing technology just to say that we are implementing technology, or are we just adding technology that helps us as providers? Investing in a better pixel tracking tool won’t help the customer, it will help you and your ecommerce team.

—How many customer-driven changes have we implemented versus non-customer-driven changes? For example, dynamic pricing is not customer-driven, it never was, it’s driven by your revenue managers and finance department.

— What we’ve done to make the vacation planning process easier, not more complicated – for example, Disney’s latest reservation system makes the entire vacation process more difficult for a family planning to visit.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is an exercise in applying numbers and ideas from one part of the industry, broadly and with license, to many others. We may question the validity of this method, but I encourage all of us to consider the above list and see the parallels. Whether it was intentional or not, it was easy to find examples that seemed applicable and supported the fact that we are probably putting the needs, wants, trends and satisfaction of our customers on the back burner. This is never a good idea for any business or any industry.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.