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Going off the radar

Airlines ill-treating customers are courting both controversy and criticism. Rajiv Makhni probes into the root of the matter

brunch Updated: May 20, 2017 22:10 IST
Rajiv Makhni
The aviation industry has started spiralling downwards in terms of service and comfort
The aviation industry has started spiralling downwards in terms of service and comfort

Have you noticed the sudden upward surge in headlines on how poorly an airline treated its customer? From bleeding passengers dragged down aisles to be evicted; parents of toddlers being forced to deplane irrespective of what they would do next; a ticket being cancelled at check-in because the passenger started to film the lady at the check-in counter due to an outrageous charge for an extra bag. And those are the ones we know about as they either got filmed or reported. There are million others who just grin and bear it as they don’t seem to have much of a choice.

Not pleasant

How has an industry that’s been in the business for so long started spiralling downwards in terms of service and comfort? The airport experience, the check-in lines, the airplane boarding system, the battle for space to park your carry-on bag, the cramped legroom, the fascinating war for sharing the armrest, the service on board, the constant circling around airports before touching down, the imaginative work of fiction that most ‘on-time’ airlines claim – why is all this becoming worse? And why has technology, that’s suppose to make every industry more efficient, left the airline industry untouched?

With long check-in lines and less regard for customer satisfaction, airports have turned into chaotic zones

IT’s made it worse

The gaze of technology on the airline industry has been like Medusa. Nothing illustrates this better than airline ticketing. Almost everything is online and dominated by travel search apps. All search queries rank airlines based on price. Do you see a ranking based on customer care, level of service or friendly staff? Nope! How about aircraft ranking, cleanliness and amenities on board? Nope! All we have is a pure price war that’s led to apps for airlines, online check-ins, airport kiosk screens, luggage drop-off lines. Then there’s the extra fee for bags, constantly changing rules for carry-on bags and extra payment for food.

The incident of a passenger being dragged down the aisle to be evicted that made headlines recently

How did we get here?

The problem is, we’ve let this happen. We are willing to put up with horrible service, terrible amenities, zero customer care, brutal new rules, insanely cramped seats, added fine print payments for everything – just to get the original ticket at the lowest cost! That’s forced airlines that did make service a priority to get rid of it. Only prices and profits matter. And it’s getting worse. Most Western countries have made airlines 100 per cent transactional and we are catching up fast.

Cramped seats mean compromising on customer experience

Well, if tech ruined it, tech could make it better too. Here’s how...

Service rankings

The obvious one is that all rankings should be service first, price later. This service ranking must be one that is accredited with each service and is feature rated. Each flight can get a grading like we have for hotels. Thus, a five-star flight can charge slightly more while a one-star rating would mean avoid this one like the plague.

Aisle seat sliders could save billions of minutes per year in boarding time

Flight clubs

It’s been spoken about and is a great idea. You buy into an airline club per month (think of it as a subscription). They’ve got your steady business and don’t have to overbook and undercut. They’ll give you the best service to make sure you remain a member.

Aisle slide seat

At boarding time the aisle seats slide onto the middle seat. This gives a large corridor for very quick boarding. Aisle seat passengers board last. Seats become much bigger for all. Could save billions of minutes per year in boarding time.

Automated servers

A robotic waiter that has your drinks and food order in advance and brings it right to you. Think of the actual trolley used right now but completely self driven. It’ll even collect trash at the end of the flight.

Seats that swivel will give double-shared leg space

Swivelling seats

Why face one way? How about seats that swivel and we can face the people behind. Will also give double-shared leg space.

Lots more that tech can do but these would be a good start. May be the most important of all this is actually us. Let’s start giving business only to airlines that actually care. We can change the airline industry – one ticket, one flight and one review at a time!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, May 21, 2017

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