I have no favorite airline out of the airlines not named JetBlue
Early on in my life travel was positioned in my mind as a nuisance. The transportation portion of moving from one place to another was an anxious and frustrating activity for me. It didn’t matter if my destination was exciting or what the mode of transportation was; I rarely had a positive outlook on an activity that most find exciting. My first two stops in the working world did not lack beautiful travel destinations. I made frequent winter trips to sunny San Diego while working in snowy northern Vermont, and have spent much of my time since moving to Boston split between Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK. For a long time the frustrations of flying and renting a car cast a negative light on what most would desire from their first jobs after college.
As with anything, repetition makes things more habit and less chore, and I’ve begun to take greater pleasure in my trips and the opportunities that they provide. With that being said, I have never been able to shake the notion that the airlines significantly lag behind the rest of the travel industry in how they operate. While other areas seem to have taken large steps forward in the last five years, I still find myself regularly disappointed with the same old procedures of airlines. On one of my more recent trips I’ve started to think about these perceptions in the context of value delivery and market channels. The car rental space has its flaws but there are leaders pulling the industry forward with improved methods for delivering their service (Enterprise). I am a frequent and loyal customer of Enterprise for both personal and business use. I have an appreciation for Enterprise’s small but common improvements of how they communicate with me and deliver their service.
As I sat on the runway for three and a half hours at Logan on a plane that never took-off, I began to rack my brain for a sustained noticeable change in how any of the airlines deliver value to their customers. I could really only come up with one, and it’s a stretch to attribute the improvement to the airlines themselves. There has been a noticeable and much appreciated enhancement to security and document control checks at most airports. I now rarely even budget time for these activities. This was again highlighted to me as I exited France less than 48 hours after the attacks in Paris. The atmosphere and some of the procedures were different but I was through security in an impressive amount of time.
The odd part about the lack of progress in value delivery is that the market channel for airlines seemingly has very little complexity. In the fading days of travel agents, for most transactions, the producer (airlines) delivers directly to the customer. The minor exception is when a travel website is used an intermediary. I call websites such as Kayak.com a minor exception because they usually function more as a marketplace rather than distributor acting on behalf of a company. I would argue that the real delivery of value occurs after a trip is ticketed. The simplicity of the market channel should be an asset used to sustainably enact improvements that influence future choices that the customer will make when choosing an airline. Changes in customer service and brand messaging should be easier to proliferate through a channel when there are few layers. As air travel choices become less price dependent for consumers there will be a shift to competing on quality. This is a clear focus of airlines through branding and marketing but neither of those things can influence my perception once I have engaged in transactions with a specific airline that ended with a sour taste. You can see a shift in focus from competing on price to customer experience in some regionally focused airlines such as JetBlue. Unfortunately for consumers and Gronk, JetBlue still has relatively limited service routes.
As mostly a business traveler, I am not price sensitive. I generally pick my airline based on the arrival and departure times. In most cases the convenience of one airline’s itinerary versus another is only marginal. Going on three hours listening to the mechanics work on the engine, I realized how curious it was that I have no favorite major airline. I can’t think of one other service or product that I regularly purchase that this is the case which led me to a minor marketing revelation:
No amount of marketing or branding is able to overcome poor value delivery systems.
Maybe the major airlines will always bare some resemblance to the commodities world and continue to have margins among the worst of any industry. Hopefully they will eventually have a sincere shift in focus from price competition to quality of service.
It just seems odd that they wouldn’t take notice of the new kids on the block (JetBlue, Southwest….).