You don’t have to work in travel PR to know that flights have changed dramatically since those we took in our youth. Those over 30 are in the first generation for whom boarding a plane and heading off abroad as a child wasn’t indicative of huge family wealth, as package holidays brought foreign destinations to the mainstream, removing the need to spend hours stuck in the eternal snake of British motorway traffic, a la Ted Hughes’ famous poem, Work and Play. But despite that privilege, conditions were rather primitive compared with today.
“But the serpent of cars that crawls through the dust
In shimmering exhaust“
Well, OK, that’s perhaps a little misleading. In actual fact, we hadn’t had the explosion of budget carriers, and the pressure on capacity wasn’t so great as to lead masterminds at giants like Boeing to patent ever-more eyebrow-raising ways of getting larger numbers of passengers into the same amount of space. Nevertheless, when it comes to technology, the difference is exponential.
These days we can check in via our mobiles, even the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair issue electronic boarding passes (providing you’re departure airport has the right kit installed), and the vast majority of long haul fares come with more movies and television shows to watch than most of us have recorded on the box at home.
None of which is surprising. The public demands everything at its fingertips in 2016, and there’s no reason why this has to stop when we fasten our seat belts and listen to the familiar safety announcement. Even the safety announcement itself is now an aspect of the journey some airlines are looking to use in order to separate themselves from competitors and stamp some personality down on the brand- thus hoping to encourage loyal customers attracted by a more personal approach. Check out this one from Air New Zealand, which ran as the third and final of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies was released, circa 2014.
Last week Virgin America, currently the highest-rated airline in the U.S., launched its ‘Blaze A New Trail’ campaign, which looks to fill seats on flights between San Francisco and Denver, using technology as a major selling point. At the moment the company is the only carrier Stateside to offer WiFi and power points at every seat on all of its flights across the mainland U.S.- both of which form a major part of the current push. In addition, you can also expect on-demand food service and live TV.
Bolstering this ‘tech-forward’ approach, visitors to the BlazeYourNewTrail website can get up to 30% off the new route, and potentially bag some free flights on Virgin America to San Francisco or four complimentary seats on the airline’s inaugural San Fran to Denver take off, scheduled for 15th March, 2016. Each grand prize winner will also score 50,000 Elevate points, hotel accommodations, Uber rides, a GoPro HERO4 Session camera, one year of LinkedIn Premium, and a one-year membership on Lynda.com, LinkedIn’s online learning platform.
The 15th March flight will also involve something we have never seen or heard of before, namely an onboard, live-streamed discussion on the future of entrepreneurship at 35,000 feet via the airline’s new high-speed satellite ViaSat WiFi – with Virgin Group’s ‘Trailblazer in Chief’ Sir Richard Branson and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock present and correct. The concept has been made possible through the airline’s partnership with LinkedIn, and adds yet more clout to the claim that this is the most forward-thinking carrier in the U.S.
It’s all thoroughly impressive, especially at a time when many airlines actually seem to be reducing their offering. Last year BA slashed its hand-luggage allowance, and many brands that once offered free hold luggage are now charging for these on short haul flights. Meanwhile, WestJet, which sells budget transatlantic trips from London Gatwick, announced plans in 2015 to scrap in-flight screens and allow passengers to instead stream content to their phone or tablets. That’s fair enough, providing you actually have a tablet, or at least plenty of battery to spare on your smartphone.
Of course, the so-called ‘generation Easyjet’ have long-since learned how to pack efficiently to avoid paying more for air tickets, but anyone who has ever been on a busy business route- for example our home city of Manchester to the German economic powerhouse of Frankfurt, one of Europe’s busiest connecting airports- will understand that when everyone makes the most of their hand luggage you’re often then forced to put bags in the hold unexpectedly. And that regularly means having to re-arrange or remove breakables as you pass through the gate.
It’s a small gripe, but one that still reveals a relatively new inconvenience. In a world where convenience is king, and people don’t want to be put out in any way, this increases the chances of shopping around for a better deal that won’t have you carrying laptop, iPad and aftershave across the runway to board the plane.
Put simply, then, as airlines face greater challenges- overcrowding on some routes, higher charges at major airports, pressure from environmental campaigners and increasing competition for customers- it pays to go the extra mile to entice customers, as Virgin America seems to be doing. And that’s a rule every brand should have already taken into consideration when trying to improve their public image, irrespective of what they trade in.