Customer experience in the aviation sector is getting worse, according to a new survey by service design consultancy Engine.

Aviation saw a 4.3% rise (to 17.1%) in the number of customers citing it among the worst sectors for service. This was the biggest increase of the 14 major industries covered in Engine’s latest annual study.

Public transport (38%) and utilities (37%) came out as the worst sectors overall for customer service. Restaurants and hotels are ranked as the best.

When it comes to individual companies, retailers lead the way, with Amazon ranked highest followed by John Lewis, M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

High-profile aviation incidents

Engine’s co-founder, Joe Heapy, says:  “British Airways’ IT meltdown and the United Airlines’ passenger incident were the most high-profile examples in an industry that seems to be struggling to look after its customers.

“However, it wasn’t just that the incidents were bad, arguably it was their response that caused as much anger, particularly in BA’s case. In an era of rampant cost cutting, their actions and reactions can give the impression that people are more akin to cargo than passengers.”

Disjointed passenger experience

In a blog post on the topic, Heapy notes that the aviation industry is fundamentally challenged by the disjointed passenger experience, from booking a ticket to arriving at the destination, and that this is caused by the plethora of stakeholders and companies involved.

He writes: “Most customers don’t know where the responsibility of one begins and ends, and when something goes wrong they don’t want to waste time tracking down the responsible party, they just need the problem solved.”

Grab your partners

Heapy urges aviation companies to establish solid partnerships and not just see themselves as delivering a particular piece of the jigsaw but as hospitality providers instead.

“If you shift the focus towards welcoming, entertaining and supporting passengers (i.e. as guests) the service provision is transformed,” he says.