The global airline industry has faced multiple challenges over the past decade. Even before the global pandemic airlines had to deal with skyrocketing fuel costs, recession, ever more demanding customers and cutthroat competition. With most countries around the world in lockdown and imposing travel restrictions, last year airlines had to cancel all existing bookings and stop taking new reservations indefinitely. With no flights taking off and businesses practically shut, airlines scrambled to make sense of the crisis, and the immediate question they were faced with was: How and what do we communicate with our customers and stakeholders?
The way airlines communicate during the pandemic and beyond is crucial and may determine how favorable they are with passengers waiting to implement their post-pandemic travel plans. Like any other organization and brand, it is important for airlines too keep in touch with their customers despite and because of the pandemic. As with every business worth its salt vying for the customer’s attention online, it is important the airline company’s communications stand out by making it innovative and informative.
The past few months saw airline operators take varying approaches to communicating with customers and stakeholders. With all flights grounded, some airlines turned to education and entertainment to keep the conversation going. Etihad Airways, for instance, recruited international cabin crew to offer language lessons in short videos. Virgin Atlantic posted Instagram stories for children, aimed at educating them about the inner workings of aviation.
While some airlines postponed their planned marketing campaigns, others took the opportunity to boost their marketing efforts and social media activity, with promotional campaigns to create goodwill and encourage people to fly with them once travel starts again. For example, Qatar Airways introduced a flexible booking policy, allowing customers to change their destination to any city in its network within 5,000 miles of the original, at no additional charge. Russia’s S7 Airlines awarded members of its frequent flier program airmiles for every day they stayed home.
The Kingdom’s national carrier – Saudi Arabian Airlines – in its social media communications spread awareness on safe travel, highlighting the importance of wearing masks, urging people to adhere to physical distancing, as well as showcasing the precautions taken by the airline to ensure safe and contactless travel.
As demand for global air travel increased in the past decade, there was a surge in the number of airline operators across the world. The industry is extremely competitive and service-focused, so satisfying the customer and creating loyalty is a vital element of the business. While initiatives such as frequent flyer programs, discounts, new routes, and service improvements have only a limited impact, fostering effective communications with customers and keeping them constantly engaged will give airlines an edge over their competitors.
Indeed, airlines need a customer-centric communications strategy to connect with people, consequently leading to improved customer service and enhanced operational efficiency.
With a tough past year and further unknown challenges yet ahead for airlines, during which time some operators may possibly have to close shop entirely, PR and communications practitioners working in the industry have a tough job. They need to produce content that is informative, engaging, as well as highlight the company’s leadership and their work. Most importantly, at this time customers need the personal touch – because no one wants to read automated messages.