Airlines struggling to satisfy needs, requirements of modern passengers

By Kerry Sheridan, AFP

MIAMI BEACH–What does the modern air traveler want? Is it the perfect sized carry-on? A wearable device that tells you how to avoid jet lag? Free Wi-Fi? Cheap flights? Better service?

Airlines are struggling to keep pace with the finicky desires of today’s passengers, many of whom are constantly connected to a mobile device and want something special on each trip. During a panel discussion Tuesday at the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the largest trade group for airline executives, hundreds of industry representatives were asked in a quick informal poll how many think airlines are doing a good job meeting passenger demands. Fifty-five percent pressed ��no�� on their handheld devices. So what should airlines be doing differently?

��Don’t give me a vanilla experience,�� said panelist Lee McCabe, a former executive with Expedia who is now Facebook’s head of travel. ��Make the information you give me very personal,�� he said. ��Make my life easy.��

Alex Cruz, CEO of the low-cost Spanish airline Vueling, said his company strives to keep it simple. ��They want a nice, reliable experience at a normal price,�� he said. The key to keeping passengers happy is ��managing expectations,�� he added. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said ��every customer wants something different.�� The key to an individual experience is allowing passengers to decide on which perks they receive, he said. ��Let them decide what they want. Let them pay for what they want,�� Joyce said. According to Jen Durkin, CEO of Project Travel, millennials don’t want healthy snacks or free Wi-Fi. ��Millennials are curious, and because there are so many things that distract our attention we need help understanding what we should put our attention to,�� she said.

For instance, she suggested airlines offer passengers a behind-the-scenes view of their suitcase as it moves through the airport machinery. ��I want to know what my bag is doing from the time it goes in the conveyor belt little door to the time it comes out of the conveyor belt,�� Durkin said. If smartphones are everywhere in the airport, then so are the opportunities to use them to encourage people to shop. ��The permanently connected traveler is an opportunity for airlines, airports, other service providers to improve their offerings,�� said Tom Windmuller, IATA senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security. ��We will be able to learn more about our passengers and be able to offer them more tailored information to their needs,�� he added. The Perfect Bag? During the conference, Windmuller announced a new industry-wide standard for carry-on bags, an idea that aims to resolve bickering and delays over whether any given suitcase is too big to fit in the overhead bin. Many airlines have different size requirements for carry-ons, which can lead to confusion. ��This is a nuisance for everyone,�� he said, adding that the sizing bins many airlines place near the gates are ��ridiculous.��