Is it Inequality or Indifference to Customers By European Airlines?



My sister recently visited Nigeria from the US and flew in on one of the European airlines, not those with direct flight to Nigeria from the US or the UK. She had a very nasty experience on board the aircraft. The cabin crew were rude, her inflight entertainment did not work, she was almost pushed aside by a crew member. It was a complete horror story she told.

I have had similar experience on these European airlines. Once, on my way from Switzerland to the UK, I was treated very condescendingly at the check in counter of the airline. I felt I was being racially profiled and it was not a good feeling. A second experience was when I was taking my daughter to start her university education in the UK. We decided on a particular European airline, because it was cheaper than a direct flight. You know how after you have finished paying the expensive fees and accommodation, bargain hunting for a cheap ticket is paramount.

Excitedly, we left Nigeria and arrived at the European airport to take the connecting flight to London. At the airline’s counter the usual question of what you are going to do in London was asked and I replied, “I am taking my daughter to start uni”. They checked her student visa and all was in order, she also had a valid 2 years visitor’s visa that had not expired. So, this meant that if she could not enter the UK as a student, she could enter as a visitor. I had my visitor’s visa, which was not the issue. The issue became, we should produce the admission letter. Her admission letter was in her suitcase, with her other documents and already on its way to the UK.

Producing that letter became our problem, we had to find a way to print another copy from my laptop, missed our flight, were embarrassed, wasted time and emotionally drained. I am sure this treatment, where someone had two valid visas to enter a country would not have happened in a different circumstance.

Or is it the instances on the plane that I have felt that I was not being treated with the respect I deserved, while the man or woman beside me was being deferred to. Many people have stories to tell about how they have been treated on European airlines. Why do they feel that they should treat African bound travelers the way they do?

The airline industry has been in the news for unsavoury reasons in the recent past. We’ve all seen the footage of the police violently dragging a paying passenger off a flight. We’ve heard of instances of passengers being told to leave the plane for flimsy reasons. Just this last week, a lady was very ill on an airline and the doctor on board advised the pilot to divert and land at the nearest airport in order to take the passenger to the hospital, but he refused and she died.

People have concluded that the treatment of customers by airlines is increasingly stratified by class or whatever classification you can connote from my examples above. People they regard as well off or “deserving of good treatment” get pampered, while the rest of their passengers are treated badly, with little respect.

In addition to the above, these airlines have shrunk the chairs on their flights, increased fees for baggage, damage baggage, are negligent of complaints and have reduced baggage allowance. “Gate agents and flight attendants all just seemed crabbier,” as The New Yorker’s Tim Wu observed.

“Inequality in air travel has never been greater. Katherine DeCelles of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Harvard Business School’s Michael Nortonshow said, … Making basic-fare passengers suffer is part and parcel of their strategy to get them to pay up, if not now, next time.”
Some thoughts on how airlines can improve customer service and reduce inequality from Nikki Gilliband in her article “How Airline Brands Are Improving Customer

Experience Inflight and myself include the following:
Personalisation and Courtesy
It’s easy for airlines to treat passengers as a homogeneous group rather than as individuals, however some airlines are now focusing on making flying a personalised experience. My other sister, who came in by Emirates recently, despite the fact that on this trip she flew economy. She was still addressed and welcomed on board by her name warmly. All the customer experience touch points should ensure that customers are treated with respect and dignity.

Easing travel worries and more leg room
Losing luggage is most people’s worst nightmare, but the arrival of tracking technology now means that customers can rest reassured their bags will be there to meet them on the other side.
While this does not prevent mishaps from happening, it still provides customers with extra reassurance and peace of mind in the moment.
Leg room should be improved upon. Cramping customers into small seats with little space especially on long haul flights should be addressed.

Better entertainment
According to research by Gogo, 83% of global passengers are interested in airlines having Wi-Fi connectivity in-flight, with 23% willing to pay extra in order to get it.
While this service remains somewhat limited elsewhere, it is available to US passengers, with many airlines introducing ViaSat – technology that enables higher-speed internet access in the skies.

With 71% of global passengers desiring wireless entertainment on a flight, improvement in connectivity is in-demand. Qatar Airways is one other example, using its Oryx Communication system to allow passengers to send MMS and SMS messages as well as access the internet during select flights.
Going forward, Airlines should pay more attention to appreciate their customers and make their satisfaction top priority. Passengers should feel like they are getting value for their hard earned money.