Friday, March 13, 2015

Turn flight delays into WOW opportunities

What could airlines learn from American Girl Dolls? American Girl dolls are extremely popular among young girls. They are educational, entertaining, and expensive. One problem, they are easy to break (and their hair messes up easily).

So, how did American Girl respond to this potential problem that could impact revenue negatively? They saw it as a potential to enhance the story of American Girl dolls, generate new revenue, and minimize returns. They set up an American Girl Doll Hospital. Now, little girls with broken dolls can send them in to the hospital where, for a fee, they can be restored to their former glory.

This was what I was thinking about as I stood in O'Hare at my gate and watched as my flight was delayed time and time again. Finally, after a 2-hour delay, we finally arrived home. And, as I reached out to the airline to share my experience with them, their best response was to simply apologize for the delay and the interruption. As I told them, it wasn't the delay (those things happen). It was the way in which the delay was handled -- no communication, no updates (except to let us know that we were delayed again), no information on the screen, and no explanations.

As you can imagine, it was not the most pleasant experience for the 100+ passengers on this flight, though most handled it with patience.

And that is when I began to think about American Girl and their hospital. Imagine the airline that considered the inevitable delays in flights to be opportunities to WOW their customers, instead of merely and meekly apologizing.

What could it look like?

1. For each hour the flight is delayed (up to a maximum of three hours), randomly draw a passenger's name and give them a round-trip airfare to be used within the next six months. Then, when the flight does take off, have one of the flight attendants randomly select one additional passenger for a round-trip airfare to be used within the next six months.

2. If First Class has seats available, randomly select passengers to fill the seats at no cost if the delay is an hour in length or more.

3. Set up a scale system that allows the mechanic (or whoever is making the decision) to rate the probability of the flight taking off within an hour of its original departure, two hours, or more.

4. For every thirty minutes of delay, randomly draw a passenger's name and give them a discount card to one of the airport restaurants, coffee shops, or other stores -- even a 10% discount will do.

5. If the flight delay goes over three hours, provide each passenger a $99 companion ticket they can use within the next six months or year.

6. Provide each passenger a voucher for entry into one of the airline clubs that they can use within the next six months when flying again.

7. At a minimum, ensure the gate agent smiles, and says more than "I'm just the messenger." Then, make sure the flight attendants go overboard on the service knowing what the passengers have been through. Even doing just this would have been far better than what I and my fellow passengers experienced Thursday in Chicago.

Is there an airline out there that cares enough about their passengers to try even one of these? Or, do they believe apologies are enough? Seeing it differently could allow the delays to become WOW opportunities.

For me, I am flying a different airline next time, and I am avoiding Chicago altogether.

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