How to convince travellers to fly again by addressing the 5 key deterrents

Using science, good practices and inspirations from other industries to bring back passengers despite the pandemic

1. The risk of losing or freezing money for the plane tickets

From the customers’ perspective, one of the key worries when deciding on whether to book a plane ticket is the perspective of losing money. In the first months of the pandemic, the Internet was flooded with horror stories of airlines suspending refunds and on lengthy refund processes. To a prospective customer, making a booking may feel like a gamble.

2. The risk of catching the virus at the airport or on a plane.

Many companies in the aviation industry already communicate how they minimize the risk of catching the virus during the trip. This includes transparency on new procedures, staff training, explanation of how technological solutions work. One great example of such campaign is #askaustrain campaign, where Austrian Airlines staff answers burning questions on COVID-19 response e.g. staff training, procedures, communication.

3. The risk of sudden holiday cancellation due to regulatory change

Many customers fear being unable to travel, especially abroad due to rapid changes in the legal landscape. Wizzair has been very proactive in keeping customers up to date with changes in COVID restrictions across Europe. Their extensive list of country-specific restrictions is accompanied by a user-friendly map, which colour codes country-specific restrictions. The map gives access to official airport websites and the database is updated daily.

4. The risk of being put on a mandatory quarantine

Many people fear that their precious sunny holiday may turn into a two-week involuntary stay at an isolation ward. This can be addressed by facilitating an officially recognized test before the flight. Many airlines have already introduced various types of such a service. A good example is the testing service offered by Hawaiian Airlines, which, in partnership with several companies offers pre-travel PCR testing within a guaranteed timeframe of 72 hours before departure. The timeframe corresponds with the current travel requirements issued by the State of Hawaii. The service, however, to reduce travel-related anxiety has to be reliable and to be compliant with evolving legislation.

5. The risk of high medical emergency costs abroad

While many families have a certain holiday budget set aside, few can afford medical care abroad in case of an emergency, unless they can benefit from mutualisation of healthcare coverage, which is the case of EU citizens in other EU countries. To take the financial pressure off customers’ shoulders, some airlines offer medical insurance together with a ticket. Air Canada offers a complimentary COVID-19 specific insurance for a travel duration of up to 21 days. The insurance covers up to CAD 200 000 in case of a positive result at the destination. It also covers up to CAD 150 a day in case of quarantine expenses after a COVID-19 positive test result, denied entry or contact tracing at the destination.

Crafting communication backed by behavioural science

Being clear about the extent of uncertainty may build a sense of safety among users. Communication focused on transparency of the risk involved might attract customers. We have to remember that people do not perceive risk accurately and that there are differences between individuals. Some messages might provoke an excessive response, others insufficient — any new strategy should be tested with intended audiences. We can however design the risk-related communication taking into account some known effects. To name a few:

Using other industries as inspiration

There is still plenty of space for action in the way airports and airlines address the epidemic-related risks in their communication and activities. Banking and insurance industries are a good inspiration for how to help customers understand and manage risk on a daily basis. Our experience in working with the banking sector has shown that it is possible to break down the risks into manageable chunks, eliminate some of them and mitigate the consequences when the risks materialize to alleviate product fear (e.g. the fear of being trapped in a debt spiral due to using credit cards). Communication and activities we designed in such a way have lowered the adverse impact of risk and have attracted more customers.

We combine a strategic perspective with user-centric innovation to create, improve and scale services and organizations.

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