CMAC flight disruption study reveals limits of public support for airline automation

CMAC flight disruption study reveals limits of public support for airline automation

66% of travellers believe flight disruption is worse in last two years

New research by CMAC on flight disruption has revealed that passengers see flight disruption as a growing problem and feel there is significant room for improvement in airlines’ care at such times, with some uses of technology running contrary to public acceptance.

The new study by ground transportation and accommodation specialist CMAC Group surveyed opinion amongst 1,100 UK adults who had taken at least one return flight in the last year.

According to the research, two thirds (66%) of travellers believe flight disruption has become worse over the past couple of years, with 23% believing it has become significantly worse. 

The majority of travellers (78%) experienced flight delays, with half of those delays reported to be in excess of three hours, including 10% of respondents delayed by more than 12 hours or never actually reaching their destination.

Although COVID-19 is seen by respondents as the main cause of disruption, the other four top perceived causes – crew shortages, crew strikes, cost-savings and flight overbooking – are the responsibility of the airline and may therefore have a larger sway on negative customer perceptions.  

Nearly half (46%) of UK travellers said their experience of flight delays or cancellations has made them less inclined to fly with the airline involved in the future.

How airlines deal with passengers at such times is “influential on customer loyalty”. 

The study reveals that although 63% feel the introduction of automated technology has improved the passenger experience at airports, when travel plans are disrupted the overwhelming majority (82%) want to deal with human beings rather than automated, self-service solutions. 

Peter Slater, CEO of CMAC, said: “Technology has an important role to play for the travel industry and passengers are generally appreciative of how automation is streamlining the experience in airports. 

“When things go wrong, however, our research shows that nothing can replace the human touch. For airlines, it’s clear that winning consumer confidence and demonstrating a willingness to put things right when flights are cancelled or delayed – with a real person on hand – can offer a crucial competitive advantage.”

When it came to supporting passengers who had experienced disruption, airlines were also found to have fallen short. 

Of those for whom it was appropriate to make alternative transport arrangements, only 47% did so with support from the airline, with 53% left to make their own alternative arrangements.

When it was appropriate to book temporary accommodation, 61% were not supported by the airline.

Slater added: “It’s clear that there is significant room for improvement in the quality of the airline response to disruption events. 

“Whilst the last few years have undeniably been turbulent for aviation, and some of the disruption passengers have faced has clearly been unavoidable for the airlines, a concerted effort in this area is essential for airlines attempting to earn the long-term loyalty of passengers. 

“Technology needs to be used as an enabler, not a replacement, for airline and ground handling staff to provide quick, in-person and meaningful re-accommodation and alternative transport solutions to disrupted passengers.”