This week tripchi is pleased to feature Ian Petchenik, a freelance aviation writer and social media strategist focusing on airline passenger experience. He’s been featured on sites like Airchive.com and the Huffington Post Live. He can often be found on an airplane or in front of a computer screen—sometimes both. When not inside an airplane he’s usually taking pictures of them. You can find him tweeting—a lot—at @petchmo, or visit his blog at petchmo.com.
We at tripchi are all about airports, we have to ask, what is your favorite airport and why?
My favorite airport is my home airport, Chicago—O’Hare International. I grew up a few miles from the end of one of the runways, so I’ve had ORD traffic passing over my head for almost as long as I can remember. I also love the history of O’Hare, it has a colorful past that you can see in various terminals and unique runway configuration. I also like that O’Hare has undergone some improvements lately, especially the major renovations in the International Terminal. But as an aviation geek, I love ORD for the variety of traffic we get.
What frustrates you the most about airports these days?
The lack of decent power and WiFi is frustrating. I shouldn’t need to investigate a dark corridor at the end of the terminal just to find an outlet. Airports are certainly getting better about making power available or adding charging stations, but often when they do, there are still too few available.
Airports have also lagged behind in offering Wifi that actually works. I’m not opposed to paying for WiFi in principle, but if an airport is charging for it, it better be fast and reliable. Passengers want to be able to download a movie or upload their presentation before they get on a flight and slow spotty connections just don’t allow for that.
How has social media improved a passengers experience at the airport?
Social Media makes it easier to “know.” By that, I mean passengers can easily find out important information without having to hunt around a website or sit on hold for a long time. Passengers can tweet an airline if their flight is cancelled and get rebooked much faster. Or if passengers have questions about what child friendly activities or areas an airport has, they can head to Facebook, post on the airport’s page, and get a response.
Social media also humanizes the contact between a passenger and the airport. When a passenger gets a quick, personalized reply to their question in their moment of need, it means a lot more to their experience than just looking it up on a website.
What’s more important for airports, using social media as a customer service tool or a revenue generator?
There is absolutely no reason it can’t be both. Excellent customer service leads to greater revenue.
From a social media perspective, what strategies can airports implement to better engage passengers?
Actively listen and engage passengers. For social media to be effective it has to be social. The airport experience begins long before passengers ever get to the airport and the sooner airports can begin positively shaping that experience the better. Travelers may have questions about parking, transportation to the airport, or what time the coffee shop opens and social media is the perfect venue to find answers to all those questions. In the best case, frequent travelers through an airport with involve themselves in the conversation, advocating on the airport’s behalf.
Nothing is worse than when a passenger trying to interact with an airport via social media is met with silence. That signals to the passenger that the airport doesn’t care about their needs and the relationship quickly becomes adversarial. Airports need to be where their passengers are. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, doesn’t matter as long as airports are coming up with engaging content and finding ways to meet their passengers’ needs.
What’s wrong with commercial aviation from an MBA’s perspective?
To choose one item on a list of many, I think the focus on short term financial results over the long-term health of an airline is a big problem for a number of airlines. Airlines have been achieving profitability through consolidation and cost-cutting, but that’s not sustainable. Finding a way to offer a product for which customers are willing to pay a profitable price is going to have to be the focus for airlines moving forward.
What is one attribute that aviation enthusiasts have that you wished the average commercial passenger had?
A sense of wonder. Not enough people sit back and think, “Wow, human flight only began more than a century ago, and now I can fly half-way around the world in a matter of hours surfing the Internet the whole way.” Air travel has been commoditized and so passengers expect a poor experience and they often get one. I think bringing back the sense of wonder would do a bit to make flying fun again.
Thanks so much Ian! If you want to reach out to Ian about everything social media and aviation, you can tweet him at @petchmo or check out his blog at petchmo.com. Also look out for the tripchi airport app beta launching in August, sign up here!
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