Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Airline Branding in the Air

There has been a lot of work and debate on Airline Branding and the role of social media in engaging customers and enhancing the brand. It is all concentrated on how to keep passengers loyal and of course engage more and more passengers. My contention is, it should be on how to get the brand to be loyal to me as an individual and as a frequent flyer.

As a frequent flyer the airline provides perks on the ground. All the customer engagement happens on the ground; the priority check in, fast track through security, priority boarding and baggage claim and of course the use of a lounge.

If one is travelling economy and if you have hundreds of  thousands of air miles, I don't care which airline it is, the airline is oblivious to you in the air. The cabin crew gets handed a list of the First and Business passengers and the service is personalized.

As a frequent flyer passenger, translate a loyalist to the brand, I want the brand to engage me during the most important segment of my travel experience, the actual flight.

I have flown several airlines were cabin crew did not even walk through the economy cabin for more than three (3) hours after the service, or kept the 'Fasten Seat Belt" sign on during smooth flights to control passenger movement.

For an airline to engage their frequent flyers is not very difficult. I am sure IT can provide a list of frequent flyers in the economy cabin. The cabin crew can then provide some sort of a personalized service during the flight. It could range from addressing the passenger by his name during beverage and food services instead of the regular "chicken or beef" litany; check on these passengers during the flight between services to see if they require anything; or provide them with a fast track voucher through immigration on arrival. It does not cost much but does wonders to the brand.

These days it seems one can buy the personalized service on an airline much easier than earning it

Almost an Emergency

I have been in the airline business for more than thirty three (33) years and I traveled extensively. Throughout this period  I had one inflight emergency, a bird strike that took out an engine on take off from Toulouse in 1987 in a Lear 35.

All my flights have been uneventful not even an unruly passenger, until my flight on the 29th of March, on the first leg of my flight to Detroit. I had my second inflight emergency, well almost an EMERGENCY. On BA0107 a B747-400 out of Dubai at 01:55 lt to London Heathrow. About 3 hours into the flight I opened my eyes to see the Oxygen Masks deploy and the deep prerecorded Boeing voice instructing us to use the oxygen masks. As I grabbed mine and pulled it towards me, the captain came on the PA system to tell us not to use the masks. Everything is OK and nothing is wrong with the aircraft and this was the result of a "SPURIOUS" technical error. The aircraft was quite, no panic. I suppose it helps when almost everyone was asleep and just woke up.

It was surreal to watch these oxygen masks deploy. I was not panicking or heart racing and pounding. I suppose years of listening to safety briefings pays off. Most of the passengers went back to sleep. This"spurious"technical error took down the entertainment system and the passenger service modules (no reading lights).

The cabin crew was flustered, I could here lots of nervous giggling. The remainder of the flight was uneventful.
The BA Customer Relations staff were at the bottom of the stairs handing out apology forms for us to fill.

A couple of things I like to share:
1. The passengers were calm, probably sleepy as most woke up due to prerecorded announcement
2. I was wide awake and I did not panic.
3. The cabin crew became subdued and lucky for us this was not a real emergency.
4. We were not told what really happened. I don't accept this "spurious"technical error theory. I subscribe to
    the "finger problem" theory.

So much for my second emergency. However, looking at BA vs UNITE and the cabin crew saga that has been going on for the last two years, my personal feeling is I really did not want to be with this particular crew in a real emergency.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Royal Jordanian - MENA's Trend Setter

In a recent interview on Aviation Business the CEO of Royal Jordanian (one of the few publicly listed airlines in the region) stated that the way forward for the airline is a strategic alliance and joint venture similar to the BA/Iberia, Air France/KLM  or Lufthansa/Swiss, where the airlines strengthen each other while each maintains its identity, The time frame is between a year and a decade. He also emphasized that any partner can not be a government owned airline.

Royal Jordanian is a trend setter in the region. The airline was;
1. The first government owned airline to privatize and publicly list, and
2. The first airline to join an airline alliance One World

Since then Gulf Air, Saudia and Kuwait Airways are slated for privatization and Egypt Air joined the Star Alliance with Saudia and MEA slated to join Star Alliance and Sky Team respectively in 2012.

Going back to airline consolidation, Gulf Air responded positively to the idea that BA/Iberia is looking for a middle east partner and so did Royal Jordanian. But then both CEOs come from the same background (Royal Jordanian).

Now, to indulge in some educated speculation;
1. Gulf Air is working towards privatization in the near future.
2. Royal Jordanian and Gulf Air fleets are very similar
3. Both carriers can strengthen each other with Royal Jordanian having a strong presence in Europe and
    North America and Gulf Air in India, Africa and the Far East.
4. Both carriers have a strong presence in MENA and the GCC.

Almost meeting the criteria mentioned earlier by Royal Jordanian's CEO

The region is catching up with the industry in terms of alliances and airline failures so why not consolidation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kuwait - Airline Consolidation

Effective 16 March 2011 Wataniya Airways has ceased all its operations and will enter in a process to determine its future. Jazeera Airways and Kuwait Airways have agreed to carry Wataniya's stranded passengers  on their flights on space available basis upon presentation of their Wataniya tickets. Wataniya provided high end service on its flights.

So what happened, this is a repetition of SAMA closing down on 24 August 2010 in Saudi Arabia.
The similarities are so close. Three airlines, with the national carrier subsidized by the government and the other two airlines having to compete for traffic with no government assistance.

So what happened in Kuwait.. Kuwait had three carriers; Kuwait Airways, the national carrier, owned by the government who wants to privatize the airline. Kuwait Airways has been subsidized by the government through direct cash infusions and preferential rates. The airline is being investigated and has not made money for two decades. Jazeera and Wataniya are publicly traded companies and have competed against Kuwait Airways unsubsidized and gained market share at the expense of national carrier.

Kuwait has a fairly liberal aviation policy and the three airlines had to deal with competition on every city pair with regional and international airlines. The field was definitely overcrowded. In February last year Jazeera acquired Sahaab Aircraft Leasing to diversify into different businesses.

Now what....  Jazeera Airways gets another shot at dominating the regional share of the market in Kuwait, leaving Kuwait Airways to compete on international destinations. Financially, Kuwait Airways will probably continue losing money and Jazeera will probably return to profitability. Will Wataniya fly again, well we have to see, my guess is not in the near future.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MEA - Comfortable and Complacent

Middle East Airlines (MEA) on 28 February signed an agreement with SKYTEAM to join the alliance in 2012. During that ceremony Minister of Public Works and Transport Mr. Ghazi Aridi announced and vowed that MEA will retain its monopoly and all exclusive rights will be renewed in 2012 (click for full story).

MEA must be thrilled. The airline has become maybe too comfortable and definitely complacent. It has forgotten  that with government support and exclusive rights come responsibilities towards the travelling public in Lebanon.

In the recent events in Egypt regional airlines like Etihad and Royal Jordanian operated extra flights to evacuate their nationals and in the case of Etihad expatriates residing in the UAE. More recently when Libya erupted Lebanese nationals were stranded in Tripoli while Royal Jordanian evacuated 2000 people over a period of a week. This is not risk aversion, airlines that operated to Tripoli did their risk assessment and obtained their insurers consent to operate, MEA seems not to be bothered.

On 25 October 2010, the MEA Chairman complained about the unregulated open skies policy of the country  (click here for details). He actually joined the criticism leveled at the Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways by European and North American legacy airlines.

And now the preservation of its monopoly, sorry exclusivity on routes which makes it unattractive to local competitors. The removal of Royal Jordanian's exclusivity did not affect the airlines that started in the last 36 months in a big way. This will provide a lopsided competitive scene whereas foreign airlines have easier access to the Lebanese market than local companies in the making.

The elimination of competition and the disregard of the Lebanese public interest in case of crisis does not bode well for MEA. There are alternatives provided by 55 other airlines. And political uncertainty and fuel prices may not be the only reasons for the loss of revenue and profits.


1 Goal 2010 2012 2013 9/11 AA Abu Dhabi ADAC Air Arabia Air Canada Air India Airberlin aircraft airlines airports ambitions American Airlines Amman aviation AVOD AWST B707-300C B767 B777 B787 BA Bahrain Bahrain Air BangaloreAviation Boeing branding British Airways Business Aviation Cabin Crew Canada change chapter 11 CO Commercials communication community compliance contingency continuity Continuous Improvement cost effective creativity Culture curricula Customer Service Delta Detroit Metro DFW Doha DTW Dubai Dubai Air Show DWC efficiency emergency Emergency Response Emirates employees environment ET409 Etihad ETS EU FA FAA family Flight Attendants flight(s) Flightglobal flydubai GACA Galaxy Tablet GAMCO GCC globalisation GOL Greece Green Gulf Air Hala Hamburg happy health home Hopenhagen Human Resources IFE India Iran Iraq Iraqi Airways Jaffa Jazeera Airways Jet Airways Jordan Just Culture Kuwait Airways LA LCC leadership low cost maintenance management manpower MEA MEBAA MENA Michigan motivation MRO MROAM Oneworld Palestine passengers passion people Philadelphia planet earth Privatization professional QAIA Qantas Qatar Qatar Airways Quality Quick Service Restaurant Radio Repair Stations Risk road roots ROTANAJET Royal Jordanian Safety Sanctions. Sao Jose Dos campos SAT Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabian Airlines Security Sharjah Airport SimliFlying Simplicity SKYTEAM SMS social media Southern California Southwest Airlines Star Alliance Sudan Airways support target teachers Technology terrorism tolerance Toulouse tourism traffic Training transition travel TSA Turkey Twitter UA UAE UBM US Airways VIA Rail Violin Vision volcanic ash Wataniya Airways
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