CUSTOMER SERVICE

Airlines create innovative guarantees to ease passengers’ booking worries

Airlines have come up with innovative ‘guarantees’ to let consumers book with more confidence. The schemes are intended to take away anxiety from consumers, caused by for example fears of job loss or weather conditions at their destination. Other airlines aim to drum up sales during the traditional slow fall travel season or are using guarantees as a new source of ancillary revenues. For example, JetBlue and Flybe last year offered a refund if a customer would lose his or her job after booking a flight. Flybe also offered a ‘volcanic ash insurance’ to let customers more peace of mind when booking during the Iceland volcano disruption in the spring of 2010. Lufthansa in July 2009 offered a ‘Sunshine Guarantee’, offering passengers who booked early EUR20 (up to a maximum of EUR200) for every day of at least 5mm of rainfall.

SmartWings ‘Weather Guarantee’
To increase advance bookings and generate additional revenues, Czech budget carrier SmartWings offers passengers a ‘weather protection insurance’ for EUR15 in order to receive EUR30 per day (with a maximum of 15 days) when more than 10mm of rain falls at their destination. The insurance has to be purchased 20 days before the actual travel date. The airline is providing the package, dubbed ‘MeteoBonus’, in partnership with ancillary revenue developer Airsavings, which says the product is based on similar services used in the agricultural industry to hedge against poor weather.

airBaltic ‘Delayed Arrival Warranty’
airBaltic from Latvia lets passengers bet against a late arrival of their flight. For a non-refundable fee of EUR17 per passenger per one-way journey, the airline’s ‘Delayed Arrival Warranty’ option gives passengers a guaranteed double refund of their ticket price (including fare and fuel surcharge) if the airline delivers them to their final destination more than 1 hour later than promised on their ticket. The refund is in the form of a  gift voucher which can be used to purchase future flights with airBaltic. Valid reasons for receiving a refund exclude bad weather conditions at departure and/or arrival airport, strikes, terrorism, and war. On a similar note, Polish low-cost carrier Wizzair offers a, less generous, warranty delay option, and refunds EUR100 to passengers who bought a warranty for EUR10 in case of a two-hour delay. Read full article »

Gatwick Airport wants travelers to tweet their feedback while at the airport

London Gatwick Airport is actively encouraging travelers at the airport to post complaints, feedback, and suggestions in 140 characters or less via Twitter. As part of a pilot programme, information screens in the check-in areas display the following message – “Are you on Twitter? Get in touch with us @gatwick_airport and let us know about your experience at Gatwick today”.

With this new initiative Gatwick Airport has basically set up a customer service system that addresses traveler’s needs in real time. Gatwick has been active on Twitter since August 2010, and often responds to comments, but according to the airport, “this now takes it one step further by actually integrating social media into the physical space of the airport”. Twitter replies from staff are currently only offered during office hours, as most other airports and airlines do. The plan however is to extend the Twitter service to run 24 hours a day. Read full article »

Portland Airport opens bike station to let flyers (dis)assemble their bikes more easily

Portland, Oregon is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities around. In fact, it has recently been named the world’s second best cycling city (after Amsterdam and before Copenhagen). For travelers and airport staff, the city also makes it easy to take a bike on the light rail train that runs to and from Portland International Airport (PDX). Furthermore, PDX is one of the few airports with a bike path that connects to the airport. 

As many travelers visit Oregon and the state of Washington for bike tourism or to participate in the region’s popular bicycle races, PDX recently has opened a ‘bike assembly station’ where travelers can assemble and disassemble their bikes before and after flights. The new service helps cyclists more quickly prepare their bikes for travel, whether it’s away from the airport on the PDX bike path or for a return flight home. The bike station is also available to airport employees who bike to work. As an extra service, basic bike tools, such as a pedal wrench and air pump, are available for check-out at the Travel Oregon welcome center in the bag claim area.  Read full article »

Flybe launches ‘volcanic ash insurance’ to let travelers book with more confidence

Following the massive ash cloud disruption which led to the closure of the airspace over much of Europe for five days in April, as many as 150,000 British travelers were left stranded overseas and thousands more were forced to cancel their trips and remain in the UK. The Telegraph reports that in the past week package holidays bookings in the UK have increased 20 percent, and bookings made through high-street travel agents have risen by 12 percent. A major reason for this may be that during the disruption most stranded holidaymakers who booked a package holiday with a licensed tour operator were offered free accommodation and meals until flights resumed. Many independent travelers, however, were left to cover the cost for hotels, food, and transport home themselves.

In a move to restore confidence among travelers (for example, today flights in and out Ireland have been grounded again), UK low-cost carrier Flybe has just introduced a ‘volcanic ash insurance’, which it says is the first in the world. The GBP6.99 (EUR8, USD10.50) per person policy is underwritten by travel insurer Chartis and will reimburse passengers for costs for delays of more than 24 hours caused by closure of airspace. If passengers are stranded away from home, Flybe will pay for any reasonable unplanned-for costs incurred for additional accommodation and travel expenses up to GBP150 (EUR170, USD230) for each 24-hour period with a maximum of GBP1,050 (EUR1,200, USD1,600). The option to purchase the insurance is available with online bookings made between 28 April and May 10th 2010 for travel up to October 30, 2010.
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Alaska Air ups checked baggage service guarantee to 20 minutes

Alaska Air Group, parent of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, just reported a profit of USD5.3 million for the first quarter of 2010, which was largely helped by revenues of USD23 million in baggage fees. Since July 2009, Alaska charges passengers USD15 for their first checked bag, USD25 for their second and USD50 for their third piece of luggage. Charges for the first two bags are waived for business class customers and upper tier members of the airline’s frequent flyer program. 

As passengers are now paying extra for their checked luggage, Alaska and Horizon Air guarantee their luggage will reach the baggage carousel 25 minutes or less from the time their airplane has parked at the gate. If it isn’t, passengers will get USD25 off a future flight or 2,500 frequent-flier miles (compensation will be given per passenger though, not per bag). Alaska Airlines said it checks about 20,000 bags per day and in the first three months since the start of the service guarantee only a few hundred claims have been made. Alaska says it is the only carrier offering such a service guarantee. 
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LineBusters, Red Coats and Tourist Angels: The return of customer service agents

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At a time when airlines are finding more ways to reduce face to face contact with customers at airports, as they are expanding the number of self-service options with do-it-yourself baggage check-in and self-boarding turnstiles, customer service agents seem to be reappearing at airports.

LineBusters
During this week’s Thanksgiving holiday rush in the U.S, United Airlines is equipping United service agents with so-called ‘LineBusters’ devices at Chicago O’Hare airport. The handheld touch-screen device displays which customers have been automatically rebooked on another flight after a cancellation or missed connection. Agents in the post-security area will pro-actively approach customers standing in line to determine if they are better off going directly to a kiosk to print a boarding pass, thereby reducing the line and the time spent waiting for information.  Read full article »