Flying frustrations such as lost luggage, hidden fees and cancelled flights can leave us ‘crying while flying’ and put us off flying for life

If life’s a journey, just how painful is the ride? From crowded flights to opaque carry-on rules, modern air travel can be a complex experience, highlights consulting firm Qualtrics as it reveals the results of its ‘2019 Airline Pain Index‘. Looking at industry-wide trends, it says flying frustrations such as lost luggage, hidden fees and cancelled flights could put us off flying for life.

Qualtrics’ Industry Pain Indexes look at common frustrations and issues that customers experience across various industries. In the case of airlines, its research found that more than one in three passengers cited lost luggage (39%), hidden fees (38%) and cancelled flights (35%) among the top five reasons passengers would never fly with an airline again. One in four also highlighted unfriendly flight crews (25%) and unclean lavatories (25%) as reasons.

The survey of over 1.700 global travellers found that more than a third (38%) said they have had a ‘dealbreaker’ experience with an airline that was so bad they decided never to fly with that airline again. Alarmingly, the Index claims that one in seven passengers (15%) have had an experience with a flight that was so bad it drove them to tears. To put that into perspective, that is 28 passengers on a full, densely configured Boeing 737-800.

The biggest frustrations of this section of passengers were controllable factors – Passengers who have quit an airline were found to be 2.5 times more likely to cite the cabin temperature, 2.3 times more likely to cite poor in-flight service; 1.8 times more likely to cite unfriendly flight crews; and 1.5 times more likely to cite uncomfortable seats.

Passenger interactions can also impact the customer experience albeit they are not the fault of the airline itself. Respondents ranked sitting next to a drunk passenger, sitting next to someone that smells bad, noisy children or crying babies, sitting next to a very large person and parents who aren’t attentive to children among the reasons they would seek an alternative operator.

Non-parents were found to be twice as likely to find noisy children/crying babies as the most frustrating passenger interaction, while parents were twice as likely to find the passenger in front of them reclining their seat to be the most frustrating passenger interaction.

CHART – The top five reasons that passengers never fly with an airline againSource: Qualtrics’ 2019 Airline Pain Index

There are also some trends relating to seat preference. Passengers who prefer the window seat were found to be 25% more likely to always look forward to flying than those who prefer the aisle. Passengers who prefer the window seat were also found to be 40% more likely to give the airline industry an A grade than those who prefer the aisle.

Interestingly, while nobody likes the middle seat, the Index identifies that people who are married but separated are five times more likely to be acceptable to being allocated the middle seat than other married passengers.

A changing passenger demographic has also seen punctuality put ahead of comfort among travellers. The Index notes that Millennials are twice as likely as boomers to quit an airline due to a delayed flight, while they are also 25% less likely to quit an airline due to lack of legroom onboard aircraft. Meanwhile, baby boomers are 2.5 times as likely as younger passengers to cite having no assigned seat as their biggest frustration when travelling.

The Index reports that for premium flyers the removal of free checked bags would make them consider changing airline, ahead of the removal of free flight changes, ending priority at check-in, security, and baggage claim, removing free seating upgrades, or introducing ticketing and processing fees.

With more comfort onboard premium passengers had quite different reasons for a bad airline experience. Top of the reasons was someone loudly arguing with a fellow passenger or flight attendant, ahead of having to move repeatedly to let another passenger into the aisle, the adjacent passenger falling asleep on you and passengers who are inconsiderate about how they stow carry-on luggage.

But it is not all bad, the survey discovered that 35% of passengers would pass on the cheapest flight option to stick with their loyalty programme, albeit timing of a flight, most direct route and length of layovers were the most common factors for passengers to consider other than price.

When it comes to choice passengers also care more about the recent press on an airline, recommendations of friends, and online passenger reviews than expert reviews, the report explains. In fact, reviews from experts in the media and elsewhere were ranked lowest on the list of factors to consider.

While the report focuses on the pains of travel, it does highlight a passenger’s past experiences with an airline can override everything else and after a good experience with a flight around 23% of travellers said they would always try to fly with that airline.

The results demonstrate the importance of managing the passenger experiences throughout their journey with an airline. “All it takes is one bad moment to ruin a flight and maybe even the whole trip,” says the report. “Thus, these moments can be the difference between growing a loyal customer and turning one away forever.”

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