Nobody likes airline companies.
This is according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which ranks hundreds of companies based on customer surveys (and according to anyone who has travelled by air in the past ten years). Of course, it is not entirely the fault of the airlines. Long lines, invasive security checks, and delayed and cancelled flights are often out of the control of any specific company.
By the time passengers reach the plane, they are a tinderbox of frustration and hate.
U.S. airlines, however, are not completely innocent. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and through the recent recession, the industry has struggled to recover. Companies have employed a number ofschemes, including costs reductions by cutting passenger services, fees for everything from carry-on luggage to in-flight blankets, and even mergers with competition to fortify positions.
These tactics, however, were for the benefit of the airlines, not the customers. And customers noticed.
As the reputations of airlines continued to decline and consumer sentiment sour, one airline consistently performed well and remained profitable: Southwest. Although their business model differed from other airlines (no assigned seating, limited routes), one thing set them apart from other airlines.
While most U.S. airlines employed crews that were stuffy, well dressed, dry and often very strict, Southwest's crews wore khaki pants and polo shirts and were known to joke, laugh and cohort with the passengers and one another. They have long been known for their inflight announcements, specifically their safety instructions, which in 2010 garnered national media attention. Even their captains have gotten into the action on occasion.
Other airlines started taking notice.
Delta, for example, was one of the first airline stalwarts to introduce more humor into the pre-flight instructions with a series of safety videos that pushed the humor envelope, albeit very subtly. They even included a holiday video and, this year, a retro-80's version.
Not to be outdone, United introduced this week a new safety video of its own, which also adds elements of action and humor and wasfilmed in six different locales around the world, including Australia and France. Clearly the cost to produce this video was much higher, which raises the bar for other airlines.
Will we see J.J. Abrams produce the next inflight video?
While US airlines jockey for inflight safety video supremacy, they are still quite tame compared to their competition overseas. Bangkok Airways, for example, introduces its inflight instructions with a choreographed jingle and dance routine, andVirgin America turns the mundane announcement into a catchy music video.
Maybe most notable is Air New Zealand, which made news earlier this year by employing Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in their pre-flight safety video.
Proving yet again that sex sells--even when it comes to safety.
Is this attention to such a small and often ignored part of the experience worth the additional effort and cost? United Airlines seemed to think so. Mark Krolick, managing director of marketing and product development for United explained, "We're working on being the world's most friendly airline. That goes into everything we do--including the safety video."
The impact of asophisticated video strategy is still unknown. What is known is that while the airline industry has recovered steadily from the tough economy, United Airlines was the only U.S. airline to lose money in the first quarter of this year.
United is hoping that being theworld's friendly airline will turn that around.
What do you think? Does attention to this little detail help repair the image of the airlines? Please share your thoughts below.