Airlines are rethinking their business models after the fallout from COVID-19. It has tested the grit of many businesses and those that were able to pivot during the tough days of lockdown are proving to be resilient and innovative in their recovery. We’ve seen how technology has had a hand in this and continues to be a powerful resource for organisations the world over.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has predicted that global air passenger numbers will recover in 2024. For the Middle East and Africa (MEA) a full recovery is only expected in 2025 with the Middle East reaching 81 percent of 2019 levels in 2022 and Africa reaching 76 percent.
Despite these estimated timelines, travel has been forever changed and the aviation industry is having to adjust accordingly. Some of the initial responses to the drop in travel operations included workforce reduction and redeployment. A number of airlines sought to redeploy their staff either internally or externally with partners. This included temporarily moving flight attendants and ticket agents to customer service roles.
While commercial travel experienced a hiatus, some airlines turned to their cargo services for other opportunities. E-commerce was in the middle of an unprecedented boom and there was a growing need for goods transport. In addition to retail, air cargo also found itself playing a key role in the distribution of vaccines. It was through this refocusing of operations that airlines were able to weather the effects of lockdown.
For others, the lull meant that airlines could step back and re-evaluate. Once travel was up and running again, it was business as usual. However, there was a lot of uncertainty around travel for passengers and the industry would need to work hard to win back this trust. And one way to do this is to focus on customer service.
Quick turnarounds make for happy customers
During the initial stages of lockdown when all travel grounded to a halt, passengers needed quick and immediate responses from their airlines on cancellations and refunds. Etihad Airways was in the process of deploying an omnichannel customer service solution with the help of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service, but quickly altered this plan to meet the needs of a call centre overwhelmed with customer queries. The airline launched a live chat service that allowed passengers to ask questions in Arabic or English and receive a response within two minutes. As a result, Etihad now handles 200 chats per day that answer around 96 percent of questions sent.
In addition, the integration of Power BI gives Etihad’s supervisors actionable insights into critical performance indicators. The company now has a more transparent view into where the right training and resources are needed for its agents.
More than just an airline
Airlines are fast becoming more than just a flight service. In recent years many have considered pivoting their offering to create new revenue streams. Packaged holidays are proving to be a popular choice for the industry and it’s these moves that are further being enabled by adopting the right tech solutions.
In the case of Iberia Express, the team wanted to enhance its e-commerce offering by improving its website’s capacity for greater volumes of traffic. In collaboration with Microsoft partner VISEO, Iberia Express was able to develop a site that went from handling 150 tickets per day to 1,500 per day. Azure’s scalability has also allowed the airline to build a more comprehensive profile of its customers for a more personalised experience.
While improving the customer experience for passengers will be a top priority for airlines, there’s also an opportunity to improve legacy systems and processes to create a more efficient industry. With the help of Power Apps, Virgin Atlantic has developed an app within Microsoft Teams for its engineering and maintenance department that shows the status of each aircraft in its maintenance cycle. This helped engineers prioritise the right aircraft and reduced the ground time for each plane.
In addition to creating an app, Virgin Atlantic is harnessing the power of data with the help of Azure Machine Learning to optimise seat-pricing based on historical data. The predictive model allows the airline to monitor the pricing of a flight against an ideal revenue and load factor. This kind of insight has helped to reduce the risk of over- or under-booking a flight.
It’s encouraging to see an industry quickly adapting and innovating under severe industry pressure. Amongst all this change, airlines continued to use tech solutions to enable better customer service, streamline processes and explore new revenue streams. The world may have had to stand still, but aviation business leaders knew that this was not an option. As a result, we’re seeing innovative airlines reboot and rebuild in a way that answers the needs of a modern and highly digitised travel market.