Traditionally, the “passenger experience” (or “pax”) has been defined by the physical interactions between airlines and their passengers – from airport check-in through baggage claim.  However, that definition is no longer enough to truly capture the full experience.

Digital Passenger Experience

Today’s travel begins in the digital world

Today’s digital world demands that airlines consider the beginning of the pax as the customer’s direct online interactions when the intent to travel is established.  Redefining the scope of the experience has created new demands on airlines’ digital presence and the ways that they are able to acquire and capture customers through their direct digital channels.

 Traditional Passenger Experience

Today’s global airlines and airports face a wealth of criticism over how they execute the in-person passenger experience. But whether the issue is long TSA wait times, flight delays, or crowded aircraft, carriers are addressing these problems.  Investment in physical infrastructure and operational improvements that can rectify these issues and deliver a better experience to travelers provides quick customer service wins for airlines.  (Think how much harder it is for an airline to ignore a line of angry travelers at the airport as opposed to a slew of potential passengers upset with an online experience.)

Airports: the traditional beginning of the pax

Airports: the traditional beginning of the pax

Further, some airlines are going above and beyond to make the in-flight travel experience better than ever. By equipping their planes with amenities like WiFi,  enhanced in-flight entertainment options, or improving their food and beverage offerings some top-tier carriers are aiming to drive loyalty by delivering the best experience they can in the skies.  However, this still ignores the passenger’s initial exposure to the airline’s brand: if a passenger bounces from their website, how can an airline show off all

of those great in-flight features?

Redefining the Experience

This should bring the importance of the beginning of the passenger experience into sharp focus.  In 2016 (and beyond), a traveler’s experience with an airline doesn’t begin at bag drop -it begins online, when the customer books the flight.

Why is that the most important part of the travel experience? Because from a marketing perspective, the source of a booking has a huge impact on the future likelihood of driving a customer’s return to book with an airline for the next trip that they take. If a customer books through an online travel agency (OTA) once, for example, he or she is much more likely to book with that same OTA when planning another trip – regardless of flight delays or lightning-fast WiFi.

Improve to Drive Value

Airlines understand how important direct bookings are to their marketing success, but they have under-invested in the infrastructure necessary to grow them long-term. Carriers have traditionally allocated their marketing dollars to traditional mass-marketing efforts but are making the pivot to digital channels like e-mail, SEM, and online ads.  These channels are all pointing customers to the airlines’ direct channels – the best way for airlines to drive brand loyalty and customer lifetime value.

Happy Passenger

Happy passengers = valuable passengers

After losing out to OTAs for so long, airlines have finally recognized the need to compete in the digital space and drive to own their customers. This is the beginning of the journey to what we call “digital power” for airlines.  By getting on this path, airlines are beginning the long process of optimizing their digital channels and growing their nascent online infrastructure.


But how can airlines begin this journey?  Stay tuned for our next post where the steps of customer interaction – acquisition, engagement, and conversion – are defined.



To learn more about the ways in which airlines are able to invest in passenger experience from the beginning, contact us here.