How to Make Flying Fun Again?
The customer experience of flying is not improving. The recent news around flying just make that more clear. We have a ban on laptops from ”dangerous” departure locations, boarder control officials that force you to surrender your unlocked mobile and not least the incident where a paying United Airlines client was forcefully dragged out after refusing to take the blame for the airline overbooking the flight and being to cheap to handle it in a civilized way.
It has been deteriorating long before these latest add-ons. This is like when Monica, in the sitcom Friends, used to dream about dating a guy call Chip in highschool. She gets a chance to go on a date 20 years later only to realise that he still lives with his parents and is just as immature as in highschool. He had not changed.
Remember when you where just as excited about the flying as about the destination? When I was young our family sometimes flew to southern France. We lived a few hours drive from an international airport and our flight always had an early departure. My father would carry me to our car in the middle of the night where my brother and I continued to sleep lying in the back seat. This was at a time when people made fun of those who said smoking was bad for you and wearing a seat belt… well you just didn’t.
Once at the airport we had to wake up and check in at the counter. We would breeze through what security there was and end up in tax free-paradise. Candy came in big packs and was much cheaper than in the grocery store at home. You could also buy exotic perfumes and really cheap liquor. For me going from the normal candy scarcity to chocolate abundance was all the innovations I needed to be happy.
Once at the gate there where a short wait and then we where let out on the tarmac and took a here-starts-the-vacation picture before entering the plane. The friendly cabin crew greeted us as we got on, served us beverages and food during the flight and usually followed my brother and me to peak into the cockpit. We would be amazed by all the controls and gages the pilots had to work with. For a young boy this was heaven and fuelled a dream about becoming a pilot.
When the pilot eventually landed the plane at our destination, the passengers would clap their hands and cheer (not just the guys who enjoyed the free drinks) to thank the pilot for bringing us down safely. My favorite moment was when warm air from the outside filled the cabin and we walked out on to the tarmac again, but now with a hot sun and palms greating us.
Like Chip flying really has not improved since the 60s, at least not for the better, but the world and our expectations has. Sure, the airplanes use less jetfuel nowadays and Airbus has introduced a new large airplane model (the A380) and so has Boeing to be fair to my previous employer. Every seat usually has it own monitor on long haul flights and you now have to pay for your meals on shorter flights. But that is not innovation, that is minor local changes. As as system, from departing my home to arriving at my final destination, my experience is worse today compared to when I was young.
The biggest innovation in tax free is to lead passengers through shops as they exit the security control. For most European trips it is not really tax free either, it is just a shop at an airport. As customers we are still mainly offered to buy perfume, candy and liquor and simple food before take-off. Is that still our main need, to buy more stuff going on vacation or to a meeting?
When it comes to the security control it is probably better to talk about an increase in complexity than innovation. For every terrorist and smugglers finding a loophole in the system a new process is put in place. One shoe-bomber leads to closer inspection of all travellers shoes, the revelation that fluids can be mixed into bombs leads to almost no liquid allowed through the control, metal objects can be used as weapons which leads to everybody having to empty the pockets and usually remove both the belt and watch, and terrorists breaching the cockpit door leads to reinforced doors and no childs allowed to look inside the cookpit again.
I would argue that the travel industri is like an old company that hasn’t been able to reinvent it self. There are individual change agents that have tried. Richard Branson started Virgin Atlantic to give the customers a better experience (I have once been to Virgins business lounge at Heathrow and it did improve my trip). There are also several low cost carriers that have made flying accessible to more people. There are too many stakeholders driving their own agenda and solving local problems, but the global problems needs to be handled on a global level. Sweden can not solve global warming by it self and an individual airline can not give me a great experience if security and airport personell has ruined it long before I reach the plane, or the other way around in the case of United. Between the lack of innovation, increased regulations and an ever intricating webb of security restrictions the customer has been forgotten.
What if air transport was optimized for the passengers individual flow and customer experience? What if focus was on my experience rather than me being part of the hord that needs to be efficiently moved to a new location?
Todays air travel is optimized based on security, take-offs and landings, airport profit, each airlines processes, available ground staff, tax free revenue, regulatory compliance etc. At best, the focus is on moving large number of people through the nescesary steps in an time efficient and safe way. Not unlike how cattle where moved in the Wild West (if western movies are be trusted). Efficient for the cowboys but maybe not the best experience for the individual cow. This usually leads to several hours wasted around the flight and usually with a few stress peaks during the journey standing in numerous different queues even when everything goes well.
But what about terror threats, the large number of people that are traveling every day, the complex webb of airline companies, ground staff, airport personnel and authorities, overcrowded airspace you might ask? Well building a computer or even a fax machine is also complex, but new laptops and faxes are being produced every day (though it is a mystery why anyone uses faxes any more). I know it looks hard to improve, but what if it was possible to give us a great customer journey while flying?
- Why can we only check-in at "our" airlines counters?
- Why does it need to be long queues to the security control when the exact number of travelers are available in advance?
- Why am I led through ”tax free” shops on my way to the gate?
- How can we handle the risk for terrorism without compromising the experience?
- How come the response to terrorist attacks on subways, trains and other infrastructure is not met with the similar restrictive new processes and regulations?
What if Google, Amazon or Tesla controlled all the worlds airports and skies, would the experience really be the same?
Airbus just released one interesting vision.
The child in me do not just want to be safe and hurded efficiently, he wouldn't mind a bit of fun as well.