Skift Take

Technology-driven innovation has done wonders for airline industry stock prices. But is that innovation also doing wonders for passengers? Right now the answer seems to be no.

What’s left to be said at this point about United Airlines’ horrific passenger “re-accommodating” situation from last week? Putting aside the company’s misguided thinking about everything from customer service to crisis communications, there may be an even bigger issue lurking beneath the surface: Any company, not just United, can get into trouble when it prioritizes procedure over customer-first thinking.

A great explanation of this phenomenon comes from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in his yearly letter to shareholders. As Bezos notes, good companies don’t get overly focused on “process” at the expense of customers.

“Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process…becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”

Related to this, a focus on “process” can be intertwined with a corporate habit of letting the existing technology dictate what happens to customers.

Technology can do great things for the travel industry. As we’ve already highlighted in this very column, technology is often the travel industry’s solution to every potential problem. And in many respects, technology has allowed the airline industry to make great strides in efficiency and lower prices.

But the hidden danger to this approach is that when things go wrong, technology is often the main point of failure.

In fact, taken to its logical extreme, technology is helping airline executives justify some seriously bad decision-making that dehumanizes the very airline passengers it was originally meant to serve. As Rohit Talwar notes:

“This represents a massive red flag for organisational digital change programs and those pursuing “employee” light AI-first automation strategies. The risk is that we create hollowed out businesses that are too rigid and incapable of responding to both predictable variations and truly unforeseen challenges.”

What Role Did Tech Play in Last Week’s United Airlines Debacle?
Technology has undoubtedly played a vital role in helping improve the airline industry. But is it possible to take technology-driven improvements too far? Farhad Manjoo argues that ugly incident that took place last week was a direct result of an airline industry that overly relies on technology, innovation, and efficiency while ignoring the needs of its customers. Read more

How WestJet’s Approach to Loyalty Keeps Customers Coming Back
There’s plenty of stories in the news lately about airlines mistreating their customers. But one airline that doesn’t fall in that category is WestJet. The Canadian carrier has consistently won praise from passengers for its top-notch customer service. How do they do it? Here are five highly relevant lessons for today’s airline industry. Read more

Airlines Make More from Frequent Flier Programs Than Their Operations
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How Will Brexit Impact the Travel Industry?
Now that we know Britain is leaving the European Union, what impact should travel marketers expect on their business? There are some potential implications for the industry to keep in mind, including problems with exchange rates, changes in booking habits, and possible complications with visas. Read more

Expedia Experiments with VR for Room Previews
There’s been plenty of hype about the potential for virtual reality to transform travel industry marketing. But while the technology has some exciting potential, there’s been less written about its potential applications to different sectors. Expedia’s potential use of VR for room previews offers an excellent example. Read more


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

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Tags: content marketing, Digital Marketing, travel technology

Photo credit: United had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. United

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