Rebuilding passenger confidence is key to aviation recovery
Inmarsat and APEX’s second FlightPlan broadcast was a record-breaking success, attracting thousands of viewers across the world.
Inmarsat joined forces with the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) once again to host the second edition of their popular FlightPlan online broadcast on 10 November 2020, attracting a record audience of more than 3,500 viewers from 90 countries across the world, with several thousand more expected to watch on-demand in the coming days and weeks.
The ambitious live event was an even bigger success than the inaugural FlightPlan broadcast, which took place six months earlier, when the aviation industry was still grappling with the onset of COVID-19 and remained uncertain about the level of impact. The focus this time around was different and reinforced that the industry has moved past its shock from this unprecedented crisis and is actively looking for well-defined recovery strategies.
Yesterday’s broadcast, FlightPlan: Strategies for Recovery, addressed this head on. Many viewers posted on social media that the day’s content – all seven hours and 15 minutes of it - had exceeded their expectations. Combining live interviews with analysis and panel discussions, the broadcast saw more than 50 leading voices exchange views around emerging strategies that will drive the industry towards growth again. Impressively, the average view time was 181 minutes, showing a deep level of engagement with the audience. In addition, almost 150 virtual meetings were hosted between viewers on the FlightPlan platform, 50% more than the April edition.
Connecting the industry
Drawing in this considerable audience were keynote speakers – including many CEOs and Chairs - from leading aviation companies such as IATA, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, Spirit Airlines, easyJet, Aeromexico, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Alaska Airlines, Oman Air, CAPA and many of Inmarsat’s aviation partners.
Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation, hailed the success of the second edition of FlightPlan and highlighted that industry feedback had been universally positive. “We are delighted that so many leading voices participated. Together, we reflected on the challenges faced in 2020, the progress made to date, and of crucial importance, the trends that will guide the next phase of recovery,” commented Balaam.
“A wide range of initiatives have already been executed to make flying viable and safe – from an overhaul of cleaning protocols to greater social distancing across the passenger journey. Under different circumstances, many of these changes could have taken years to introduce. The next phase will delve even further into the passenger mindset, ensuring that consistent policies, measures and technologies are implemented to restore confidence in airline travel. While many hurdles still lie ahead, the single most overwhelming sentiment expressed during FlightPlan yesterday was one of optimism.”
A key focus on the day was better understanding the current mindset of passengers and restoring confidence in air travel. The results of the world’s largest survey of airline passengers since the pandemic began were released in time for the event, helping to provide fascinating insight around passenger confidence about flying since the COVID-19 hit. Titled the ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’, the survey captured the views and attitudes of almost 10,000 respondents from 12 countries across the world.
Niels Steenstrup, Senior Vice President of Inflight Business at Inmarsat Aviation, provided analysis of the data from the survey during the afternoon. Not only did it uncover that 83% of air passengers expect their travel habits to change in the long-term as a result of COVID-19, but it also revealed the fact that the majority of passengers (60%) feel satisfied with the aviation industry’s response to the challenges of COVID-19. That’s good news for airlines who are looking for opportunities to encourage passengers back to the skies.
“The fundamental message is about consistency. Passengers want to board a plane anywhere and be confident that the same hygiene practices are being followed. They want a consistent set of safety standards around the world, and more consistency on quarantine rules,” said Steenstrup. “Worries about flying are all too often a result of inconsistencies and lack of assurance about what they will be met with at the airport, on the plane or at the destination. Co-operation between nations will undoubtedly help restore passenger confidence.”
Agreeing with Steenstrup, Peter Harbison, Chairman of CAPA, added that “a harmonious and standardised way for looking after passengers” is needed. “The biggest problem is the unilateralism we have seen develop,” he said.
Trust and reputation
Another key theme was the growing relevancy of trust and reputation. Robert Carey, Chief Commercial and Customer Officer at easyJet, said: “In an economic downturn, customers want value and a brand they can trust.” This is supported by data from the ‘Passenger Confidence Tracker’, which finds 44 per cent of passengers believe reputation is now a more significant factor when choosing an airline than it was pre-pandemic.
“Trust is super critical for any brand, but certainly for those that have a safety component like airlines,” agreed Anton Vidgen, APEX President and Air Canada Head of Brand Experience. “It was important before the pandemic and it’s especially important during the pandemic.”
There was a clear focus throughout FlightPlan on the importance of digital solutions as a short-term solution to boost confidence and safety, through reducing touchpoints and interactions throughout the journey experience.
Gustavo Nader, Thales’ Head of Strategy, IFE and Connectivity, noted a growing trend for traveller autonomy, enabled by digitisation. “Travellers are increasingly reliant on self-directed resources to get information about their travel experience,” he said. “Airports and airlines will be required to accelerate their digital transformation in a way that increases the independence of the traveller and reduces their reliance on touchpoints and interactions.”
Airline leaders echoed this, arguing that the pandemic has accelerated their digital transformation plans. Vidgen noted that Air Canada has already adopted touchless bag check and is exploring innovative technologies from biometrics to automatic gate boarding. Implementing touchless technologies throughout the journey, he believes, will ensure “that customers feel confident and can serve themselves as much as possible”.
Matt Klein, CCO of Spirit, noted another shift in passenger habits: the uptake of ancillary services. “The Spirit business model, with optionality of services, is working. There is a lot of value for guests with that and our ancillary revenue generation numbers are back where they were last year,” he stated. Research from the Passenger Confidence Tracker supports Klein’s comments, with value added services - such as extra legroom and free baggage - becoming increasingly important to passengers in 2020.
Despite the deep challenges facing aviation as a result of the pandemic, FlightPlan speakers expressed positivity in how the industry has adapted at speed, and shared optimism for the recovery phase. Perry Cantarutti, SVP Alliances, Delta Air Lines, commented that “we’re learning to realise that we can’t let it [COVID-19] conquer our ability to live our lives and run our businesses, but we have to be able to do that in a safe way”. He noted that growing travel confidence in the US domestic market in particular is an “encouraging” sign.
According to Andrés Castañeda, CMO and CXO, AeroMexico, the pandemic has led the airline – and the wider industry – to identify ways to be more agile in the future. “We can change our processes and policies faster than we ever thought we could,” he said. “With COVID, we need to reimagine how we operate to bring trust back to customers. That has been a silver lining of the past eight months.”
Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM reiterated this, stating: “The crisis has forced us to be more agile. It’s forced us to really try and be a step ahead of our competitors”. He ended with a note of optimism for the industry: “People have family and friends around the world. People like holidays. People have businesses. That’s not disappearing. If borders are open, they will come back.”
Whilst acknowledging that passenger habits will have changed, easyJet’s Carey shared the sentiment that the appetite for travel will not dissipate. Reflecting on the passenger of the future, he said: “Are they going to interact with us [airlines] differently? Absolutely. But the brands set up to win are going to have a really bright future.”
If you missed out on any of the live event yesterday, the full broadcast is now available free-of-charge on the FlightPlan website and each segment will soon be available to view on-demand. If the audience’s response is anything to go by, it shouldn’t be missed – you can find it all here: https://flightplan.wavecast.io/live