Travellers have regained their confidence to fly again. But for some, trust that they will ever take off has been broken. The summer flights fiasco continues. The mayhem could go on for months. Nevertheless, there are valuable CX lessons for airlines and airports (two reputations are at stake – each reliant on the other). Lessons to improve what customers experience as summer stretches into autumn. Lessons for future planning – this isn’t just about crisis management.

Will some operators have any customers left at the end of this?

The airline industry is struggling with staff shortages. There are continuous waves of absences from Covid. However, some airlines and airports are cancelling more flights than others. Passengers passing through Schipol, Manchester, Heathrow and Dublin have all seen chaotic scenes, long queues and planes on the ground. Barely a day goes by when the headlines aren’t filled with delays and cancellations by Aer Lingus, British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and many others.

Grounded in Dublin

Let’s focus on Dublin Airport for a moment. The mayhem at the airport has exposed significant issues with customer experience planning and the measures put in place to mitigate the impact of unforeseen (and foreseen) circumstances.

While it’s true that the airport relies on outsourced third-party providers to deliver services, the causal issues of the chaos are also rooted in problems similar to what we’ve seen in the UK.

  • A lack of a customer focus – the focus arguably tilts towards shareholder value
  • People strategy – layoffs during Covid have proven unrecoverable. Short-sighted recruitment policies and labour shortages have also added to chronic staffing issues
  • Passenger demand – travel demand in 2022 is recovering faster than forecast
  • Strikes – lots of them by different service providers

What broader CX lessons can we learn from Dublin and beyond?

Let’s begin with trust.

1. Improve trust signals

Airlines and airports need to restore trust as millions of passengers reel from recently cancelled and disrupted flights, lost baggage and long wait times to get help. Customers also worry about future plans. They will choose the airline they trust to get them to where they want to be with minimum inconvenience. Many airlines are already starting from a low base in restoring that trust.

As Which? reports, the pandemic brought out the worst customer service the sector has ever seen. Refunds were delayed for months. Passengers spent hours trying to get through on phone lines. Repairs are needed. Brands can do this by demonstrating that they put the customer first – and mean it. Let’s explore two ways to do this.

(1) Be available on the channels where your customers are

The immediacy of information is crucial when your customer is glued to their phone looking for flight information. If I’ve booked a flight with Aer Lingus and I am worried about whether to turn up at the airport, or I’ve arrived and can’t find anyone to help, one of the first places I would go for information is @aerlingus to find out what to do next.

But scroll through the Twitter feed, and it’s obviously a marketing channel. There is no dedicated @customercare handle. Passengers are encouraged to send a direct message regarding their booking. There is no information on support availability in its bio. Flight updates are few and far between.

Scrolling through the feed, the first message I saw the other week was a pinned tweet about what to do to get on your flight. But, unfortunately, there was scant information on what to do if you can’t.

Aer Lingus, currently responsible for most flight cancellations in Dublin, is part of the same group (IAG) as British Airways, which has also been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. BA has its own CX disaster unfolding as weeks of chaos stretch into months.

But, @British_Airways messaging sends more signals on trust in its bio: ‘We … are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help’. The first message I then saw was an information update on cancelled flights.

What about lessons from Dublin Airport?

The good news. @DublinAirport has an award-winning Twitter feed.

The team provides plenty of positive travel advice and news. But there is little advice on what to do if things go wrong. The airport encourages passengers in its bio to email the customer support team. However, there isn’t any information on when the team is available, or response times to manage expectations and instil confidence that the airport is there for customers.