Delta, like all airlines, faces a very real, very big challenge. Right now, the vast majority of people aren't that interested in climbing onto an airplane with 100 people they don't know for a few hours.
It turns out that traveling isn't as bad as you think it would be. But that doesn't mean it isn't very different. For example, when I flew to New York City last month, I had no idea what to expect. Even as a fairly regular traveler during "normal" times, I had more anxiety about getting on a plane than I ever had before.
That's entirely natural considering that most people don't like the "unknown." We tend to avoid uncertainty as much as possible. Flying simply involves too many variables out of our control for most of us to take what seems like an unnecessary risk during a pandemic.
But if you're Delta, that's bad news. In fact, it's very expensive bad news. As a result, the company has made an extraordinary effort to keep passengers and crew members safe.
In an interview with MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle at The Atlantic Festival, Delta's CEO made clear the cost of COVID-19 to the airline's business:
We're flying today at a 60 percent load factor cap. So that means 40 percent of the seats we fly, we are deliberately not filling and not selling. That is not cheap. But the more important decision we make is we gotta put people over profits. And we know that instilling confidence in our customers, as well as our own employees, is job number one. That's our priority right now.
I'd much rather people remember Delta as the company that took care of them through the pandemic... Customers are making a decisions about who Delta is by the values that we put out on display.
All of that is great, but the key here is "instilling confidence." None of the rest of it matters if people are too anxious or afraid to do business with your company. To that end, Delta has a brilliant strategy for providing information for customers: Instagram. This morning, I was swiping through my feed, when I came across the following post.
If you tap on it, it reveals individual profiles for each of the different steps the company is taking to make the boarding process safer. If you select one of those profiles, they provide additional information. For example, if you tap on the Customer.Face.Masks profile, it explains:
For everyone's safety, customers must wear a mask or face covering, and extra masks and Care Kits will be available if you need one. Those with underlying conditions who can't wear a mask or face covering are required to complete a "Clearance-To-Fly" process before being permitted to travel.
Think about that for a moment. Delta took the time to create a dozen Instagram profiles so that it could better communicate with its followers. Sure, you can argue that Delta has plenty of resources and staff to do this. That's definitely true. But the thought behind this makes it effective for two reasons.
The first is that it helps create expectations. In that example about face masks, it provides a potential traveler with all of the information they need to know about what is required of them. It even details the process if a passenger has an issue with wearing a mask. (As a side-note, Delta's CEO says the company has already put 350 people on a no-fly list for refusing to wear masks.)
The second reason I think this is so effective is that it's not just about creating expectations for someone who has already decided to travel. In my article describing my flight last month, I explained the steps the company is taking to do just that. In a statement, Delta told me, "Our community management team has been highly engaged and very responsive with customers to help increase confidence and reduce anxiety."
This, on the other hand, is meant to reach people who haven't decided to travel. It wasn't on their website or in an email. It was on Instagram. Remember Instagram, that place where we all used to share images of the cool places we visited when we traveled? Delta clearly wants us to get back to that, which is why the fact that it ran this content there is so effective.
Delta is meeting travelers who have a sense of wanderlust where they are, and is helping them better understand the effort the company is taking to keep everyone safe. That, in turn, helps to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty around travel.
None of that is easy, especially now. And, it doesn't mean people are going to suddenly start buying plane tickets. This, however, is a creative and interactive way to create expectations. In fact, I think it's brilliant.