Airlines face a dilemma in balancing passenger experience with flight costs but technology may eventually provide a breakthrough, according to a panel of industry experts at the Mexico Aerospace Forum 2016 in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Moderating the panel “Passenger Experience in Commercial Aviation” at the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel, Melvin Cintron, Regional Director of ICAO for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, also noted the need to attract more women to the aerospace industry. “We need to find new strategies to introduce young women into aerospace education,” he said. “At the same time, we need to promote women already in the industry to reach executive levels.”
The bulk of the discussion focused on the issues airlines grapple with as they try to meet the needs of customers while also serving shareholders. Rafael Driendl, Country Manager of Kayak, highlighted the importance of all services around the flight itself. “The client experience starts before the customer gets in the plane, including how easy it is to find a flight, how easy it is to buy a ticket and how frequently it gets canceled or delayed.”
Added Rodrigo Vásquez, CEO of TAR Airlines: “At the end of all our productive chains, there is a final customer.”
But evolution in services, especially by way of new technologies, is not cheap and this is reflected in higher costs for the final consumer. “Better customer service means higher prices and aviation is always affected by the position of its stakeholders,” said Driendl.
Still, a customer-centered approach is a priority for all players in the industry, the panel agreed. “Better and more competitive airports would represent a better integration between them and the airlines,” said Sergio Allard, President of CANAERO, supported by Héctor Iriarte, Director General of LATAM Airlines Group Mexico, who emphasized the importance of airlines participating in processes before and after passengers take their flight.
This becomes especially necessary as Mexico begins to meet its potential for passenger traffic.
“The potential for Mexico under the right conditions of regulation and infrastructure is 125 million passengers per year,” said Allard. This represents a challenge in terms of saturation but the CANAERO President stressed the importance of maintaining efficiency even under these conditions. Iriarte agreed. “Effective costs are not a business model but a necessity,” he said. “We must address the needs of each client and understand that there are no one-stop solutions that apply to every passenger.”
Empowering the user during the decision-making process also is a priority, especially considering technology integration throughout the industry. Even though, according to Driendl, 60 percent of Kayak’s operations are based on technology, the country manager recognized that companies normally make decisions based on simple assumptions. “Customers’ opinions do not always reach the decision-makers.”
Vásquez pointed out that alliances are vital to determine the needs of the user, a factor Iriarte suggested could help understand the customer better. “Our competitors are sources of information for what users are expecting from us,” he said.
Regulations and customary processes, though necessary, present an added obstacle for customer service. “Our main values are safety and security and we need to work as a team to achieve this,” said Allard. “We put our lives in the hands of the airlines but we do not always realize it.”
Technology and better processes will ultimately dramatically shift the customer experience. Said Allard: “Someday we will have an airport without counters, where everything is controlled by the user through their personal devices.”