Wednesday, June 12

The Airline Experience

I never thought it would happen, to tell you the truth, but the airline experience has evolved.

I always thought that the experience was pretty generic, all about the same from airline to airline, and not all that satisfying.  But there's something very different now ... there are airlines that clearly get it and airlines that still don't.

Take a look at USAir.  Completely lost its way.  You have no idea what you are going to get from one trip to another.  An inconsistent experience that does not build their brand.

Same could be said for United, although this one makes me sad.  United is coming out from the merger of United and Continental, Continental once being a great brand that I personally frequented.   Sad because that brand is gone and United has not really replaced its essence.  #LostOpportunity.

Then take a look at American Airlines, another airline that has struggled yet is trying to fight its way back.  I recently flew a cross-continental flight and was very impressed, although admittedly my expectations were low.  A much improved experience though, from start to finish.

But none take the place of Southwest Airlines, Virgin Airlines, or Jet Blue, each with its own unique brand experience.  One is about the individuality of the employee and flyer, one about the food selection and on-board experience, and one about the total transaction from initial booking to landing at your destination.  Three completely different experiences ... each hitting on a different aspect of a traveler's needs.  I hope that they can keep each one alive to continually differentiate themselves. 

Now internationally it's a different story. 

On many of the regional/national airlines throughout the world, we experience a whole different level of service and hospitality.  Of course it varies by airline, but I believe many of the national airlines have it right:  just the right combination of service attributes to make the flying experience so much more enjoyable.  Cathay Pacific, which I am flying this week, is a great example but honestly there are several.  Perhaps great service is becoming a commodity now in the international space, as well it should be, which means those airlines too will have to keep differentiating themselves as well.    I see it coming West, which is a good thing.

So I am a little encouraged about the airline industry ... we are starting to see the makings of differentiation in what really had become a commodity category, something that makes a marketer like me very happy.  And a traveler like me happy too!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
- President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
- Author, The Experience Effect series

- Professor, NYU
- Contributor, Entrepreneur


  1. Delta has completely remade itself. Somehow the merger of two relatively crappy airlines in Delta and Northwest produced a far better airline, with consistent branding, great apps and far better service. I've gone from avoiding them like the plague to being well on the way to earning Gold status with Delta this year!