Flight disruption is a very real concern for airlines and passengers alike, with delays now reportedly exceeding pre-pandemic levels, writes Peter Slater, CEO of CMAC Group.

Countless hours are lost as a result, and airlines are inevitably struggling to keep all passengers happy when delays, re-scheduling, re-routing or cancellations occur.

At CMAC Group, we recognise that if airlines are to respond effectively, they need to understand passengers’ perceptions of delays and how these should be handled. This helps airlines to avoid falling short of passenger expectations and, instead, seizes the opportunities created by disruptions. This prompted us to conduct research among more than 1,000 UK adults who had taken at least one return flight in the past year.

Experience of flight disruption

Our research found that some 54% of people had experienced flight disruption over a 12-month period, with 35% experiencing them on multiple occasions. This highlighted the common occurrence of flight disruptions across all airlines and locations.

The research also showed that 66% believed disruption has become significantly worse in recent years, with 46% saying their experience and the service they received has made them less inclined to fly with the same airline again in the future.

Today’s travellers expect good customer service even during challenging times. It is therefore imperative for airlines to invest in robust contingency plans in response to disruptions. Failing to do so could result in significant long-term financial repercussions if loyalty declines.

A better approach

The good news is that our research identified significant scope for airlines to improve the passenger experience during disruptions. Disruption can be incredibly challenging for passengers and airline staff, but with the right strategies in place, these situations can be managed to create a smoother experience for both passengers and airline staff.

Some 77% said they believed human support will always be superior to technology in times of crisis, or during major disruption. When asked to provide their thoughts on when technology or human support is most appropriate, many respondents echoed what our data showed, “Technology has its place and I can see huge advantages, but the human touch for when things inevitably go wrong is essential.”

While passengers are happy to embrace technology when it comes to booking and checking in, if disruption happens, they expect their airline to offer an alternative rather than be provided with a tech or self-serve solution.

More than three quarters (77%) said they would like to see more assistance from ground staff during flight disruption. As the face of the airline, their empathy can go a long way in reducing passengers’ concerns.

Passengers dread being left stranded, and at times of mass disruption, with hotel rooms and transport options limited, passengers will no doubt feel a degree of frustration.

Airlines that prioritise a robust level of support to disrupted passengers will be competitive. For most, putting the human touch first whilst leveraging technology in the background will be a huge improvement to the service they have received in the past.

With flight punctuality below pre-pandemic levels and almost half of people who have experienced disruption saying they are less inclined to fly with the airline involved, there’s a bright future for those airlines that do commit to meeting passenger requirements when things go wrong.
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