Last week Delta Air Lines announced that it was trialling an on-time guarantee for checked-in baggage. If passengers travelling within the U.S. don’t receive their luggage within 20 minutes of landing time, Delta will offer up 2,500 bonus miles to their account - compensation that only Skymiles members are eligible for. Is this all just a lacklustre attempt to cover up the pain that we’ve become too used to from air travel? Or is it actually a well thought out strategy that will build up brand loyalty? We caught up with some of adland’s finest to get their thoughts.
Mark O’Brien, President of North America, DDB Worldwide
Delta’s new ‘guaranteed’ baggage delivery is unlikely to influence customer loyalty. Here’s why: Business travelers do their best not to check luggage, which means the airline is not appealing to its largest customer base. For others, 2,500 points earned for inconvenience seems hollow. In exchange for customer loyalty, travelers require a pleasant flight experience; an easy check-in, a breeze-through security line, an orderly and pleasant boarding process, a clean plane, comfortable seats, a decent entertainment system, appetizing meal options, accommodating flight attendants and a reasonable wait for checked luggage. Most travelers’ airline experiences are negatively ingrained well before luggage is collected, which a guaranteed baggage delivery is unlikely to sway.
Southwest’s success can be attributed in part to the fact that they’ve focused on customer experience, a simple loyalty program, and consistency. The rest of the big US airlines had better focus on the experience leading up to claiming checked baggage and the system for earning free flights if they want to move the needle on improving their customer loyalty.
Adam Tucker, President, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising NY
The airline industry is poised for record profitability in 2015. As oil prices ease, the economy improves, and efficiencies are realized from consolidation, the outlook is brighter than ever. Weary travelers should reap the benefits as airlines invest in the travel experience.
Delta’s new 20-minute bag return guarantee appears a positive step. However, the burden is on the traveler to do extra legwork to make a claim for slow baggage. How about a real guarantee where passengers are automatically refunded their bag fees?
Creating loyalty is particularly hard in an industry where brands have stripped back service, increased fees, and commoditized the category. Jet Blue, Virgin America and Southwest command high levels of loyalty because they put people and service first. From live in-flight entertainment, first bag free, free on board snacks, to employees with a can-do spirit, they understand that the little things add up to a better overall experience.
Keep an eye out for other airlines to tout new service initiatives. Here’s to hoping they understand the human factor. Free wi-fi anyone?
Britt Fero, Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Seattle
Business travelers love frequent flier status and the bonus miles that comes with it. But when you think about it, the concept is irrational. If a flyer commits to flying a particular airline, the airline won’t make him or her pay to check their luggage. That’s not really a reward or added value – it basically just lessens the pain of commercial air travel. These so-called ‘rewards’ essentially just celebrate what should be reasonable expectations of flying. But consumers accept this system because air travel has become a necessity that allows them to do the things they really want to do – whether that’s see clients, visit family or friends or travel the world. They put up with it – and even indulge it. The big step change would be an airline that decided to look at rewards as truly that – rewarding passengers with something special or extra because of their continued support. That’s respect.
Carolyn Corda, VP, Industry Strategy – Travel, Hospitality & Sports, Epsilon
Kudos to Delta for tackling a major pain point of air travel. An additional upside is that it may encourage more people to check bags and alleviate the boarding and deplaning crush. The down side: Delta just told travelers that their time at the most critical point of the trip is worth a mere 2,500 points. They’ve quantified their time. How about giving out points plus some other perk that is unpublished to demonstrate customer commitment? Maybe a voucher for a free meal on the next flight or access to the VIP lounge on some future trip?
NB: Delta is an Epsilon client
Catherine Halaby, Associate Director of Strategy, Brand Union
Passengers are accustomed to an increasingly undignified air travel experience; we expect cramped seats with diminishing legroom, no snacks, and extra charges for any and every comfort. The traditional thinking has been that not only must economy class drive healthy margins by cutting costs, but that the experience must be crappy enough that those who can afford it will pay to upgrade to a higher class cabin. Southwest showed us that an airline could both target budget shoppers and differentiate through warm customer service (and be profitable). With fuel costs at historic lows and financial performance strong, it may be time for the industry to compete for customer loyalty by adding rather than eliminating perks for economy passengers. Offer me an airline that promises additional service without additional costs – and deliver on it – and I’m delighted. More than delighted, I’m shocked. With our expectations dragged so low, it’s not hard to impress us with tiny luxuries. As an industry trend, however, I’ll believe it when I see it. Even JetBlue, with its long history of treating passengers to generous legroom, a free checked bag and DirecTV, is going the way of the industry and juicing profits by adding fees for bags and cramming more seats onto planes in 2015.