Long security lines, crying babies, or erupting volcanoes like the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull Iceland eruption. There are some disruptions and delays that airlines can’t control, but these experiences are all a frustrating part of flying today and can lead to schedule disruptions or poor in-flight experience. However, these issues aren’t the ones that rankle airline customers most. What makes passengers so frustrated they vow never to fly with a particular airline again? It’s usually not what an airline can’t control, it’s what they can control.
In the Qualtrics 2019 Airline Pain Index study, customers were asked about common frustrations and issues throughout their interactions with commercial airlines. The focus of the study was on specific pain points such as general aspects of flying, issues with other passengers, booking decisions, and premium flyer preferences among others as well as how much those pain points impact a customer’s likelihood to return to an airline. Here’s what the study uncovered.
Passengers who have quit an airline cited issues like cabin temperature, poor in-flight service, unfriendly flight crews, and uncomfortable seats as their greatest frustrations. However, these same passengers took a different perspective when it came to less controllable factors, such as delayed flights and lost luggage. In these instances, they were no more likely or even less likely (in the case of lost luggage) to cite these as their biggest frustrations.
Passenger-to-passenger interactions can also be highly frustrating. Passengers listed sitting near a drunk passenger, having someone behind them kick the seat, noisy children, crying babies, and parents who aren’t attentive to their children as being some of the most bothersome behaviors. Despite being significantly frustrated by these interactions, however, passengers are less likely to hold an airline responsible.
Of course, canceled flights and delays also irk passengers. When respondents were asked to pick the single most frustrating experience they could have while flying, canceled and delayed flights were two of the top three complaints.
But it’s just as notable that, of the top 10 most frustrating experiences, respondents said they could have while flying, six of the 10—all except flight canceled, delayed flight, lost luggage, and lack of direct flight options—fall squarely within an airline’s ability to control.
Another area where airlines control what makes or breaks the experience is the benefits they offer. Naturally, all passengers care about the complimentary benefits they receive, but premium flyers care even more. Losing benefits, such as free checked bags, flight changes, and seating upgrades, as well as priority at check-in, security, and baggage claim, were some of the top reasons premium flyers said they would switch to another airline.
It’s no secret that many people hate to fly because the experience is so painful. But, the truth is, there are many things airlines can do to make the experience better.
While passengers weigh price in their decision of which airline to fly, they also consider other factors, such as loyalty, reputation, and personal experience. As many as 35% of passengers said they would pass on the cheapest flight option to stick with their loyalty program. Outside of logistical factors, passengers also said they cared more about an airline’s recent press, recommendations of friends, and online passenger reviews when weighing which carrier to choose. And, after a good experience, as many as 23% of people said they will always try to fly with that airline again. At the same time, as many as 39% of passengers said they’ve had an experience that was so bad they decided never to fly with that airline again.
While there are many snags and mishaps that are beyond an airline’s control, today’s flyers care more about the experiential elements airlines can work to improve. So, it’s well past time for airlines to focus on improving the customer experience. Just as bad experiences can be a powerful deterrent, good experiences can be a powerful tool in building loyalty.
Mike Maughan is the Head of Global Insights, Qualtrics