Sentiment Spotlight: Impatience in Airlines

By: Dheepan Ramanan

September 9, 2015

Sentiment Analysis

We’ve all experienced our share of travel nightmares. Missing a flight because of a security line that just wouldn’t move. Coincidently running into a weather delay that lasts just long enough to cause a missed connection. Navigating crowded parking lots and dealing with lost luggage. Let’s face it, with so many factors out of their control, airlines have the deck stacked against them to deliver excellent customer experience.

This week, we analyzed airline reviews of 6 major national carriers to find out what airlines can change to make travel more enjoyable. We found three things that airlines can do that dramatically improve customer experience overall:

  • Streamline the check-in experience. Customers have a better experience when the airline provides separate check-in lines for web check-in and standard options.
  • Proactively communicate delays. If there is a weather or mechanical delay, inform customers as soon as possible. Communication of delays improved customer sentiment dramatically in these negative events.
  • Serve high-quality food and drinks. Even if the prices for food were high, customers who mentioned tasty meals or alcoholic beverages gave very high sentiment scores overall.

Rating Impact By Airline Theme

Streamline the check-in experience
Airlines should focus on improving the order and speed of the check-in process, especially with web options that are more efficient. Customers found it especially frustrating when empty business check-in kiosks were not being used to process long lines of economy passengers, leading to delayed flights. Many customers also stated a preference for web-only check-in lines, which allow for a smoother experience.

Sample Comments:

Check-in in Bombay was good with a dedicated line for Web check in passengers.

Check in was very slow and disorganized between standard economy and web check in.

3 Business Class check-in counters remain open and free, not processing the very long lines of economy passengers often delay these flights.

Provide honest and transparent communication
IRROPS are situations when unplanned occurrences cause delays to flights, such as weather or mechanical issues. These events always generate negative sentiment, but what airlines can control is how often and how soon these delays are communicated to passengers. Unfortunately, there is a lot of room to improve in this regard.

Only 12% of all customers mentioned agent communication in an IRROPS event positively, the lowest percentage of any IRROPS theme. To improve this area of the customer experience, airlines need to communicate frequently in the event of mechanical or weather based delays.

Sample Comments:

During delays, the staff were very rude and not forthcoming with any information about the delays.

Direct lie from the staff of the company calling weather problems as a main reason for delay (as we learn upon arrival at Madrid airport, they had a technical failure issue). 

Poor communication, lack of explanations and terrible customer service.

Serve high quality food
Although customers no longer expect free meals from airlines, neglecting this customer touchpoint may be a mistake. If food and drink quality is exceptional, many customers have no problem paying a premium for this service. In fact, positive mentions of food quality and selection improve satisfaction by 1.3 points. Alcoholic beverages, particularly cocktails, are particularly a positive area of feedback.

Sample Comments:

Food was absolutely excellent – beautiful lamb cutlet and beef cheek – best food I have had on an aircraft.

Very generous with the booze – excellent champagne, wines and some fine malt whiskies, all served correctly by the wonderfully attentive flight attendants: old school British, middle aged ladies and gentlemen, chatty and polite to the point of parody, but the twinkle in their eyes tells you that they know it.

Crew were superb all the way, food was exceptional and the alcohol flowed freely.

By taking these measures, airlines gain the goodwill and loyalty of customers—who just might cut them a little slack next time a suitcase goes missing.


Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.