Lessons from hotels

Six valuable lessons airlines can learn from hotels

25 May 2018 | by Les Roches


How often have you embarked on a flight and left disappointed with the service? Was the food bad? Was there not enough entertainment available? If this has been the case, you are not alone – enthusiasm for air travel is at a record low. When we stay at hotels, on the other hand, we expect – and often receive – excellent service and amazing experiences. So why should airlines be any different?

There are a number of lessons airlines could learn from the world of hotels. Jane Hurst – an editor and freelance HR professional with extensive experience of helping people land hospitality jobs – offers six key points to take airline customer service to new heights.

The human touch

A frequent complaint about airlines is that people feel as though they’re treated more like numbers rather than actual people. If you’ve been on flights before, you have probably received the usual free drink and microwaved meal, but is that enough to make it an unforgettable experience?

Good hospitality thrives on human connection. As a customer, we want to feel welcome, relaxed and valued. When we first step foot into a hotel, reception and concierge staff forge connections with us – if airlines had a team of dedicated flight attendants for each wing of the plane, we could get the same attentive, welcoming feeling we get in hotels.

Personalised experience

Has travelling ever felt personal to you? More often than not, air travel is a necessity rather than a genuine pleasure, even if it’s for a special occasion. At hotels, they can often be made aware if you’re staying for a reason. They will then go above and beyond to recognise this – whether it be a bottle of champagne to celebrate your anniversary or an upgrade to a nicer room.

So why don’t airlines offer the same personalised experiences? If they are given the relevant information, airlines could offer a free upgrade to business or first class, or offer a celebratory glass of bubbly.

Better entertainment

Long-haul flights can be especially dull if you have nothing to do. With mobiles stuck in flight mode and no Netflix to watch, how do you pass the time? While you do have some options, more variety would be welcomed. This could be the introduction of more interactive games, or offering DirectTV or SiriusXM Radio channels for a small fee. At modern hotels, entertainment is widely available, with continued technological advancements creating the likes of sleep-assisting headbands and tech lounges.

 Scholarship programmes

Hotels are renowned for their investment in travel and tourism education, and the next generation of vacation personnel. If you search for internships or work experience opportunities at airlines, however, you will probably end up disappointed. But with so many other customer-facing industries offering them, why aren’t airlines?

Some private jet charter companies, like Air Charter Service (ACS), are doing exactly that. They usually offer a range of grant and scholarship programmes to the brightest, most talented and most innovative students. Not only does this highlight their commitment to the future of aviation, but it also offers frequent users of their services the chance to step out of the cabin and into the cockpit. You can read more about aviation scholarships and research support grants here.

Rating systems

When you want to book a hotel, the first thing you do is check out the reviews. Whether it’s TripAdvisor, Google or another platform, you want to make sure it’s a good place to stay before booking. For airlines, while there are some rating systems available – such as Skytrax Global Airline Ranking – they are not widely known.

Promoting these review sites could change the experiences and expectations we have as flight passengers. Systems like these would let potential passengers find out about the experiences of others and give airlines helpful feedback with tips about how they could improve.

Better efficiency

With the number of airline passengers set to rise over the next decade, efficiency will prove key to delivering a superior customer experience. The process between check-in and boarding is often haphazard and can be confusing for many passengers.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t more efficient options. The Steffen approach to boarding suggests adjacent passengers in line should be seated two rows apart from one another. During field experiments, the Steffen method was found to be least 20-30 per cent faster than the back-to-front method currently used by many major airlines. In fact, the results of one field test, involving 72 passengers, found the Steffen method was nearly twice as fast as current approaches to boarding.

Hotels, along with other hospitality-related industries, make good customer service their priority. Airlines should be no different. If they incorporate some of our six suggestions, they will create a loyal customer base that will be happy to use them again and again, while making flying easier and more enjoyable.

Les Roches


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