I’ve taken a number of trips this year. Last month I took a trip to Las Vegas to play golf and watch a hockey game. The plane was packed, even if the city wasn’t quite as crowded as I remembered just a year and a half ago.
This week, I returned to Vegas to crowds that would make you wonder if COVID-19 ever happened. The streets were crowded, the lines for taxis were long, and it was tough to get into a restaurant on a Monday night. And on the way home, the plane was oversold. The airline was offering more than a thousand dollars to each person who would volunteer to take the next flight. I thought, “We’re back!”
I was attending a convention and talking to future clients about booking me for their next customer service keynote speech. More importantly, and to validate my optimism, was breaking news that United Airlines is investing $35 billion to expand and upgrade its fleet, the largest order United has ever placed, and also the largest order of any airline in more than a decade.
When you combine that with previous orders, United will be adding more than 500 new jets to its fleet. It’s anticipated that there will be 40 added in 2022, 138 in 2023, and as many as 350 in 2024.
Beyond the news of the United order, the Transportation Security Administration announced on June 11 that more than 2 million travelers were screened at airports. That’s the first time more than 2 million passengers were screened in a single day since early March 2020.
According to an article in The Guardian, while those numbers look good, it’s still only 74% of the volume compared with the same day in 2019, but it’s 1.5 million more than the same day last year, according to the TSA. On top of that, airlines are bringing back furloughed employees to help with the travel boom they are predicting in the upcoming summer months.
Another indicator that will put more people on planes is the comeback of the meetings and conventions industry. Conferences that were canceled in the past 15 months are being rescheduled. I’ve attended a few, and while the numbers are down from the past, they are still being attended. Travel restrictions are still in place at many companies, but they are easing up. Some of my clients who weren’t traveling three months ago are planning business trips in the next few months.
And airlines are spending money to upgrade the passenger experience.
The airline industry is one of the most difficult industries when it comes to delivering a consistent customer experience, given the many problems that can occur that are out of the airlines’ control, such as weather, which causes flight delays and cancellations. And, while the increase in passengers translates to crowded airports, know that the airlines are doing their part to make air travel more enjoyable.
For example, American Airlines is working to get feedback from customers to create a better experience. It tracks its customers’ journey, including something that Anshuman Sing, director of Shop, Buy and Ancillary Product Management at American Airlines, refers to as “rage clicks,” customer frustration points that take place across their journey, from the booking process through landing and collecting luggage. This feedback is collected in real time and can often be managed almost immediately.
And United Airlines isn’t just buying new jets. Beyond the $35 billion being spent on new jets, it is upgrading the passenger experience. In what is being called “United Next,” 100% of the existing fleet will be upgraded with the same features as the new planes, including seat-back entertainment in every seat, larger overhead bins, a newer look with LED lighting throughout the cabins and more.
Airlines investing in new planes, upgrading older planes and creating better processes are good indicators. But perhaps the best indicator is passenger behavior. They are buying and they are flying. They are going on vacations and attending meetings. Yes, it appears that air travel is back!