Mobile Intervention to Address the Needs of the Disrupted Traveller

Travel disruption really is “no joke” as US travellers experienced last month when Storm Jonas heaved across the East Coast wreaking havoc on travel in the nation’s busiest cities. 10,850 flight cancellations, more than 5,000 delays[1] and thousands of frustrated travellers were left stranded in airports across the country. It was an extremely stressful weekend for travellers and airlines alike.

Traveller anxieties and frustrations swept across social media sites as hashtags such as #snowmaggedon2016, #blizzard2016 and #stormjonas instantly trended on Twitter. Heated reactions from travellers were a telling reminder for airlines and the wider travel industry of the costly implications of disruption, particularly in relation to brand loyalty and customer service. Last year it was reported that disruption management cost airlines a staggering $450 million to resolve and affected more than 600 million travellers worldwide[2].

Below we take a closer look at Tweets from travellers directly affected by the Storm Jonas disruption. We provide some practical examples which illustrate how airlines and travel companies can use mobile to alleviate traveller frustrations and significantly enhance their level of customer service during IROPs situations.

Image source: USAToday.com

Meeting the needs of the disrupted traveller:

During IROPs situations, travellers have two clear needs that must be addressed by airlines and travel companies in order to alleviate undue stress or anxiety.

  1. Real-time information: In cases of freak weather conditions such as Storm Jonas, it is often the “unknown” which causes most stress or disappointment for travellers. No traveller wants to arrive at the airport (having braved extreme weather to get there) to spend hours anxiously waiting in crowded departure lounges not knowing when or if their flight will leave that day. Research shows that more than 50% of travellers now expect (at the very minimum) an app notification during disruption situations[3]. Airlines and travel companies have an opportunity to alleviate undue anxiety for end-travellers by proactively keeping them well-informed with real-time updates on flight status and alerts regarding cancellation or delays.

2. Traveller autonomy: As travellers become more reliant on using their devices to manage their trips, they increasingly expect to be able to self-serve in times of disruption or cancellation. Particularly when it means avoiding long queues at the airport or spending time and money contacting call centre agents to deal with alternative travel requests. Rebooking and personalised rearrangement options via mobile are now a priority among travellers with more than 50% highlighting these as important mobile services during disruption. Airlines and travel companies can provide travellers with greater autonomy by offering mobile services such as alternative flight selection, route changes or offering refunds and credit as appropriate[4].

Practical use cases for managing IROPs via mobile:

“Flight rebooking during irregular ops is the big white space in the airline experience.” Henry Harteveldt, 2015

These comments were made by Harteveldt last year however throughout 2016 we expect this to change dramatically as airlines and travel companies recognise the potential of mobile to alleviate traveller frustration during IROPs situations. According to SITA’s latest Airline IT Survey, 70% of airlines will implement rebooking and personalised rearrangement services via mobile by 2017[5].

Below we have included some practical use cases that demonstrate how mobile can be used to enhance customer service during complex IROPs.

Remove uncertainty with flight & travel alerts: In the lead up to Storm Jonas, most travellers were already aware of adverse weather conditions, however thousands still travelled to airports in an attempt to catch their flight because they were unsure how their travel plans had been affected. Travel companies can resolve this issue by instantaneously communicating updates and changes to schedules directly to travellers’ devices.

  • Real time flight information proactively communicated. Send travellers real-time flight updates and alert travellers to possible delays or disruptions as soon as possible.
  • Simple gate changes communicated instantly. Instead of having to continually scan airport departure screens, travellers can be kept up-to-date on gate change via their devices.
  • Utilise advanced interactive push notifications in iOS 9. Interactive notification buttons can drive travellers to take specific actions with deep-links to different in-app content. For example, during IROPs airlines and travel companies can direct travellers to the relevant pages within their app to make a re-booking or other rearrangement services.

Airport way-finding: More than 100,000 passengers that were left stranded in airports during Storm Jonas could have had their situation somewhat improved with directions and guidance on what to do and where to go while waiting in the airport.

  • Propose places to relax. In crowded airports it can be difficult to find areas to rest or sit down. Direct travellers to less busy areas within the airport where they can relax during delays.
  • Propose dining or refreshment vouchers for those affected. Avoid the need for travellers to queue up to get refreshment vouchers during periods of delay by sending them directly to their mobile.
  • Distance to gate and walking directions. Offer additional support and guidance to travellers by providing directions to key amenities, location maps and other useful information such as distance to gate.

Complex disruption: During more complex IROPs situations which affect a large number of flights, airlines and travel companies can provide some sophisticated self-service options to assist travellers.

  • Delay support portal for immediate assistance. Provide a self-service portal that dynamically displays within the app for all affected passengers. Here travellers can easily manage their own alternative travel arrangements including re-booking, hotel accommodation and agent assistance.
  • Find a hotel. Make it easier for travellers to locate accommodation when displaced in airports overnight by providing options to book third party hotels via mobile.
  • Live Chat. Provide travellers with a live chat option to communicate directly with agents in order to manage any additional travel assistance they require.
Graph: Increase in real-time travel and flight alerts during Storm Jonas with an MTT customer

While extreme weather events such as Storm Jonas are relatively uncommon, regular disruptions in travel are not. The travel industry is susceptible to all kinds of disruptive events across many parts of the journey — Icelandic volcanoes, weather systems, civil unrest, employee strikes — the list goes on. While airlines and travel companies cannot avoid disruption, they can implement specific mobile strategies that enable them to manage it more effectively, reduce costly implications and lessen the stress to the end-traveller. Keeping travellers better informed and providing them with more self-service options will help instil trust in their travel provider’s brand.

If you wish to discuss your mobile strategy for IROPs, please contact us to arrange a meeting with one of our experts.

Image source: www.orlandosentinel.com

Sources:

[1] The New York Times, January 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/travel/how-the-east-coast-storm-is-affecting-weekend-travel.html?_r=0

[2] Tnooz, June 2015, http://www.tnooz.com/articles/amadeus-airline-personalisation-2015/

[3] SITA, ‘The Future is Personal’, February 2015, http://www.futuretravelexperience.com/2015/02/report-highlights-demand-for-personalised-travel-experience/

[4] SITA, ‘The Future is Personal’, February 2015, http://www.futuretravelexperience.com/2015/02/report-highlights-demand-for-personalised-travel-experience/

[5] Airline IT Trends Survey 2015, SITA, June 2015