A Tale of Two Airlines

If you want to keep your customers’ attention, it is critical to understand how they feel about you at every stage of the relationship. Conflicting experiences can potentially cause confusion in how your brand is perceived.

My husband and I were booking airline tickets for our first family vacation four months ago—we were psyched our infant daughter could fly for free. But as the trip grew closer, she grew bigger and less willing to sit still. So there I was, two nights before the trip, in a panic to book her a seat of her own. The airline’s website showed plenty of available seats, but at $800 I thought YIKES! The airline’s policy was that they’d give us a seat for the baby + car seat if there was one available, so we took a big gulp and hoped for the best.

When we got to the airport the check-in person at the front counter couldn’t promise us a seat, but told us chances were good that there would be an extra one for us. While we were waiting in the terminal, an employee working at the gate actually came over to tell us “you’re OK to bring the car seat.” Sweet relief! On the flight the crew was super helpful and never made us feel bad for taking up the aisle to walk our restless daughter during the 6 hour flight. They helped us strap in the car seat, checked on us regularly, held the door while we tried to set up the changing table, and just made the experience really positive.

On the way home, we weren’t so lucky. When we checked in there were still open seats, but again they couldn’t make any promises. At the gate, we were told the flight was sold out and we were forced to check the car seat on the jet-way. But, upon boarding we couldn’t help noticing plenty of empty seats near ours. When we inquired as to why we were just told that there were no empty seats, a crew member snapped back that “sometimes people just don’t show up.” Really? And you didn’t know that ALL of these people weren’t going to show until 30 seconds ago when you made us check the car seat? REALLY? It was downhill from there. Another crew member walked by and hissed, “you’re not strapping her in WITH you, are you?” (This seemed safer to me than just holding her, but hey, what do I know…) And then she was visibly annoyed that we were blocking the aisle trying to calm our flailing baby. Same airline, totally different experience.

So what went wrong? It’s simple—inconsistency across this brand’s touch points.

Prioritizing these “moments of truth” can help a brand achieve the ultimate goal, which is consistency of experience. As a customer, these flights represented one event with a series of different interactions since it was the same airline on both flights. But the airline needs to understand the more distinct touch points that make up the overall customer experience, so wandering customers like me don’t walk away totally confused and frustrated.