Do Some Airline CEOs Have A Distorted View Of The Industry?

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17/06/2009 – Do Some Airline CEOs Have A Distorted View Of The Industry?

It seems that many airline executives are out of touch with the reality of the industry.  This is not to say there are not some outstanding airline executives and CEOs, but some at the top of the industry seem to be letter opportunities pass them by.

I have debated whether to write this brief entry for 10 days as my opinion may significantly anger some in the airline industry I am currently conversing with, as well as a few potential future clients. Having debated this for a few days I have decided that the core mission of Flying With Fish has clearly been to inform travellers so here I go…

On the 7th of June, during The Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting, in Kuala Lumpur, Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways, made a few remarks that clearly show that some top global airline executives may not have an accurate picture of the current airline industry.

During the IATA meeting Willie Walsh is quoted as saying “the Golden Era of flying is over” and that business travel will never return to the levels seen prior to the current global recession.

The fact that Mr. Walsh has just noticed that ‘the Golden Era of flying is over’ is frankly quite shocking. There is no pinpoint date to point to where we can say, “the Golden Era of flying died today.”

I know many point to the moment when Pan Am Boeing a 727-221, registered as N368PA, flying as Flight 436, touched down at Miami International Airport (MIA) from Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI) on 4th of December 1991. Why this moment?  This flight was the last flight ever operated by Pan American Airways…and Pan Am dominated the world’s airline industry for just over 60 years.

No matter what date or moment comes to people’s minds, it is clear that “the Golden Era of flying” has long since been gone. Gone are full service, and hot meals, in all classes of service on virtually every short-haul and medium-haul flight; gone are the days of kids being handed a set of wings by flight attendants; gone are the playing cards distributed in flight…airlines have even eliminated ‘personal’ the mini-bars of soap in favour of pump-canisters of liquid soap.   The experience of flying has dramatically changed and many of us have watched the shift happen over the past two decades.

Mr. Walsh also believes that business travel levels will never return to what they once were prior to the current recession. While I am not an economist, it is clear to me that business travel will once again be on the rise. The more businesses I am speaking with the more I am hearing of businesses exploring their travel options.  Businesses may have reduced their current travel budgets or readjusted their travel policies, however businesses are traveling.  As businesses adjust their travel needs and travel policies airlines must adapt, be competitive and seek out not only new passengers but focus on passenger loyalty.

I am not going to delve into how I believe airlines can be more competitive and drive passenger retention, but it is very clear that British Airways’ CEO and a few other global airline CEOs out there might want to open their eyes and check out the industry landscape.  There are some simple and effective ways for airline executives to get a real view of passenger perception, passenger loyalty potential and the future of gaining and retaining new passengers.

Anyone who is just noticing that ‘the Golden Era of flying is over’ or even referencing this shift in the industry at the point in time might consider adjusting how they are gauging the airline industry.

Happy Flying!

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