Flying High: Building Consumer Trust in the Aviation Industry.
COVID-19 devastated the aviation industry: since March, the industry has lost an estimated 314 billion USD in revenue, tens of thousands of airline workers are unemployed, and aviation suppliers have seen earnings plummet. As we approach the holidays, we examined three airlines’ communication strategies and how they built trust with customers to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Delta Air Lines At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta Air Lines established a first-of-its-kind Global Cleanliness Division within their Customer Experience organization called the Delta CareStandard. Established in partnership with Mayo Clinic and a variety of healthcare experts, the standard is divided into three layers of protection: cleanliness, more space, and safer service. Photo Credit: Delta Air Lines With the assistance and resources of Mayo Clinic, Delta was one of the first Fortune 100 companies to test their entire staff for COVID-19. Mayo Clinic continues to use these results to establish broader trends for the industry. This summer, Delta also established partnerships with Purell and RB (the makers of Lysol), which gave Purell and RB insight into consumer travel and expedited the development of new disinfectant solutions. The partnership also helped Delta establish protocols for disinfection, becoming the first U.S. airline to provide hand sanitizer stations aboard every aircraft. Southwest Airlines Southwest Airlines has also taken a multi-layered approach to tackling COVID-19. Their Southwest Promise initiative includes: cleanliness around the clock (in addition to measures taken throughout the duration of a flight, for 6-7 hours each night, planes are cleaned from nose to tail with electrostatic disinfectants, antimicrobial sprays, etc.), keeping distance (leaving middle seats open through November 30th), and equipping employees with appropriate protective gear. Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines In October, Southwest announced a partnership with Stanford University’s School of Medicine to review elements of the Southwest Promise and provide medical advice and protocol recommendations moving forward. In addition to these partnerships, Southwest continues to consult with the CDC, the WHO, and other organizations as they continue to enhance their standards. Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines’ standards go above and beyond, exceeding CDC guidelines. As part of their COVID-19 program, Next-Level Care, Alaska Airlines developed and validated aircraft cleaning procedures in partnership with the University of Washington Infectious Disease team. In addition, pre-travel and wellness agreements (which includes: verification that passenger hasn’t experienced COVID-19 symptoms within the past 72 hours or come into contact with someone who is asymptomatic, and an agreement to wear a face covering at all times) are required before a flight and, for those traveling to Hawaii, Alaska Airlines is even testing passengers via Carbon Health Rapid Testing, Bartell’s testing, and at-home test kits. Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines When looking to implement COVID-19 strategies for their own organizations, communicators in the travel and tourism industry should note the long-term impacts resulting from each of these strategies. Whether its implementing an entire new division or reevaluating long-standing policies, this pandemic has permanently changed customers’ expectations moving forward. Other airlines and travel organizations will be hard pressed to meet those expectations and demonstrate their own commitments to cleanliness and customer safety. Each of these airlines’ efforts have cemented their commitment to customer service, and prospective passengers have noticed. Forbes, NerdWallet, and dozens of additional local and national outlets have ranked and reviewed airlines’ COVID-19 strategies. Each of these airlines was also quick to leverage external partnerships, building trust through others’ expertise. Those medical and health experts lent these brands a degree of credibility they could not have built through their own efforts. Further, their robust, multimedia campaigns have kept these airlines top-of-mind and will be instrumental in surviving the pandemic. COVID-19 will eventually recede, but this pandemic has been a defining moment that will irrevocably change the aviation industry for decades to come.