Airlines are now paying more attention than ever to crafting better traveling experiences for customers beyond the airside. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced the new “Layover with a Local“ program for transfer passengers to enjoy Amsterdam with an Amsterdammer while Transasia Airways from Taiwan introduced “Invisible Guide” to provide real-time solutions for travelers through LINE. These examples mark the trend of airlines attempting to play a larger role than merely the transporter.
Last week, Transasia Airways announced the new “Invisible Guide” service. Set to debut in late-March, the service will provide tips and help to Transasia Holiday package customers traveling in Japan.
With over 17 million users, LINE is one of the most popular instant messaging application in Taiwan. Many companies, including airlines, provide customer services via LINE. For “Invisible Guide”, Transasia Holiday will create LINE groups, in which customers are members, to allow real-time consultation. From 8:30AM to 6:00PM Japan Time, travelers can easily get in touch with the “Invisible Guide” by shooting a short message.
Associate Manager Wang provided a couple of examples on how customers may interact with the account: “Say a traveler is at the metro station yet cannot figure out which line to take, he/she can send us a picture and we will immediately reply with directions.” Wang provided another interesting scenario: “If a traveler is looking for discounted ionic hair dryers, we will provide him/her with coupons and locations of stores”.
Transasia Airways is planning on rolling the service to other destinations if proven successful in Japan.
On the other end of Eurasia, the ever innovative KLM Royal Dutch Airlines revealed the “Layover with a Local” experimental app to make transiting more enjoyable. Designed for travelers with a layover of more than six hours in Amsterdam, the app brings together Amsterdam locals and transit passengers.
Here is how the app works: travelers sign up and provide their basic information at least 36 hours before their layover; locals provide their information and available times on the app. For successful pair-ups to happen, both the traveler and the local have to confirm their availability when being assigned a partner.
After the pair-up, both parties’ contact information will be available to each other during the layover period. A voucher will show up in the app for free drinks at a local bar. For the traveller, directions to-and-from Amsterdam Central Station will also provided.
Upon arrival, a roundtrip train ticket will be provided by KLM personnel. The traveller will take a 17-minute train-ride to Amsterdam Central Station, where he/she will meet the assigned local. The two will then proceed to one of the participating bars, where a free round of drinks will be provided. Of course, if one of the party is not into drinking, the two can proceed to other locations.
The meet-up is estimated to be at least 90 minutes. If the traveler has a long layover and the pair really enjoy each other’s company, they may head to other places in Amsterdam and even exchange contact information.
During the period between 22 March and 31 May 2016, KLM travelers departing from Canada, the U.S. or Italy will be allowed to participate in the program.
FLYING AND BEYOND
Both the KLM and Transasia Airways initiatives provide powerful evidences to how airlines are gradually transcending from the basic role of flying people to places. The “Invisible Guide” by Transasia Airways strengthen the competitiveness of the carrier, both against other airlines and Online Travel Agencies (OTA) in selling flight and hotel packages. “Layover with a Local”, on the other hand, puts KLM in a significant position as the tourism ambassador of the Netherlands.
Over recent years, products of airlines have increased in product similarities. From the seat designs and lounge offerings to the services provided, common elements appear constantly while examining each and every brand. Smarter consumers are also undermining airline loyalty programs, as prices seem to have become the most important factor in choosing carriers. This proves the importance for airlines to turn their focus beyond airside.
Many carriers across the globe have become more active in taking on larger roles in travelers’ trip planning. Finnair and Air New Zealand have introduced innovative apps in their in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems for passengers’ post-flying plans, while the three major Chinese carriers are busy introducing new reservation, e.g. taxi and hotel, and home delivery functions on their in-flight wi-fi portals.
As airlines become more innovative than ever, it is foreseeable that airline brands will not only represent a mean of transport, but also a lifestyle.