With passengers increasingly in control of their own travel arrangements – from booking to self bag-drop and online check-in – the downside is that airlines have very few touch points with their customers.
For answers we need look no further than what we’re all carrying onto aircraft – one or more smartphones and tablets that are not simply ancillary items but are our tools for business and for staying in touch with colleagues, friends and family.
Everyone can now be connected within the aircraft. It means that what was okay yesterday for customer service is not okay today – there’s going to be a revolution in the way we deliver services to passengers, not just during a flight, but also before and after.
Given the opportunity, passengers will use their mobile phones, send and receive emails, surf the Web, text, talk, watch movies and listen to music during the flight. And they’ll use their own device, because that’s where they keep everything.
They will also increasingly expect Wi-Fi to be provided free – just as it is in hotels, coffee bars, restaurants and city centre public spaces.
So when customers talk to us about adding Wi-Fi to the aircraft, we guide them away from thinking of Wi-Fi as a revenue source in its own right.
That’s not the reason you should consider it.
A world of offers
Because if you think about it, there’s a whole world of helpful information as well as entertainment you can offer passengers, crew and cockpit alike. And it can all be personalized, to add real value.
Provide crew with a tablet and you can preload it, put all the forms on it, digitize everything. That’s easy. But it’s step zero. Step one is you actually make it connected into the airline’s systems – using the systems to bring important and helpful information to the passenger. That really enables the crew to have an interaction with the passenger from a very personal point of view.
The airline may not have many touch points with the passenger, but it has a lot of data. So use the tablet to use the data and create that environment of exchange with the passenger.
Pilots also want to be connected, they want information. They have everything loaded onto electronic flight bags – saving paper, weight, fuel. But, again, that’s also step zero.
The next step is to bring live information into the cockpit. Pilots can plan routes better, potentially saving fuel and providing a more comfortable ride for passengers.
We’re also about to start streaming black box data. And we can use connectivity to monitor the overall health of the aircraft, streaming data about engines, wheels, brakes etc., direct to the OEMs.
These are early steps on a long path – but the most difficult part of the journey is that first step, accepting that it makes strong sense to connect the aircraft through Wi-Fi, and that the benefits accrue from nose-to-tail.
I promise you, over the next five to 10 years, this is going to snowball so that the connected aircraft is the norm.