12 ways airports can turn stranded travelers into happy customers in the next crisis
Editor’s Note: A day before I spoke about putting the joy back into the airport experience at the Annual ACI Conference in Lisbon, Philippe Scheimann from SOSTravelers.com suggested that he wanted to write a guest article as a follow up to his earlier ‘How to empower stranded travelers‘. We decided that that the next article could be on how to help airports turn stranded travelers into happy consumers. Hence, here is the guest article by Philippe.
This is a very challenging question since, by definition, stranded travelers are in a difficult situation, often far away from home, in a difficult environment where uncertainty is high. Stranded travelers are usually left on their own, airport and airline officials have often no answer to provide because of the inherent uncertain nature of the event and are limited in what they can do to help travelers at a loss for helping the travelers.
The following items may not work for everyone, everywhere. However, they show various directions that will need to be customized and modified according to the specifications of the location, the needs of the travelers and various other parameters.
Let us assume several assumptions to start with:
- We are talking about stranded travelers who need to fly, sleep and eat. Flight is their first priority but other means of transportation may be considered.
- Travelers do not pick up the 20 best airports to be stranded in nor the worse. Stranded travelers can be in any airport that needs to do its best to turn a difficult situation into a successful one.
- The Internet and Twitter are working which is not always the case . It is possible and recommended to work with other social networks such as Facebook or at least to be able to connect to telcos.
Here is a series of 12 items to consider:
1. Free or Freemium wi-fi
It is crucial that the airport provides the best Internet infrastructure as possible. Suddenly, you may have a very large number of travelers trying to connect to the Web through their web devices and laptops. It is essential to add all the required equipment so that everyone can be connected simultaneously. Depending upon the policy of the airport, free access may be provided, special discount or premium service can be offered during the time of the crisis event. (Here’s a very good discussion on whether airports should offer free wifi or not)
2. Ample power outlets to recharge batteries
Batteries of smart phones as well as laptops discharge quickly. Make sure that you provide a series of extensions to the travelers so that every traveler can recharge their batteries. If possible, then set up a desk where travelers can actually buy additional batteries and various other related products such as local SIM cards. These can even be put in vending machines across the airport!
3. An Airport Twitter account
More and more airports and airlines are using Twitter to inform passengers about the situation. In addition, it is a good idea to set up a list of twitter accounts including all of the major players working in this location, such as airlines, transportation, restaurants and more.
It might be also useful to open a special account for a specific situation e.g. @TLV-stranded.
4. Display airport’s & airlines’ Twitter feeds in public
Gatwick Airport uses LCD screens to display the various twitter mentions of the airport. San Francisco’s new Terminal 2 also does the same. This way, even people without an account or who are not technology savvies can ‘follow the airport in real-time and get updates. They can even help each other out!
5. Find out who are tweeting in and around the airport
Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook record the location of the users if they have not decided to opt out. Applications like Geochirp and Trendsmap allow to search in a specific location based on key words the people who are tweeting. Once you see the identity and the posts of those people, it is then possible to start a dialog, following them and more. This way, it is possible to know who the travelers are and communicate with them. Communication can go beyond the airport especially for stranded travelers who have decided to leave the airport and are waiting for some green light to come back and catch their plane.
6. Provide hard facts not rumors
Stranded travelers often suffer from a lack of information, misinformation and various rumors. Why not take an action one step further and publish along with a local newspaper an electronic & paper edition aimed at stranded travelers?
When you follow accounts of the stranded travelers, you may avoid major crisis like the one that happened with the British trains when stranded travelers in the British trains who decided to walk back on the track and thus causing additional delays. It is then possible to stop rumors from the beginning and convey facts. It is also important to follow accounts like @eurocontrol which is the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.
7. Providing a shower up to a seat in a concert hall
Mobile showers should be arranged as soon as possible in order to help stranded travelers stay clean. Depending upon policy, it might be possible to charge a fee for those services especially if they are expensive to provide.
Why not go one step further and start selling toilet kits as well as bringing in professionals like chiropractors, masseuses, alternative health doctors, etc. to improve the well being of stranded travelers. As an extension, it can include a whole list of events that will turn the airport into a concert hall, a food market or whatever idea you may have. On June 16, Charles Boem (@cboehm) tweeted: “@LizzSum AUS has got to be the best airport in America to get stuck at. Often has live music too.”
8. Work hard…
Manybusiness travelers usually hold a membership for entering airport lounges. However, in the case of a large number of stranded travelers, those lounges may not be reachable or over crowded. Therefore there is a demand for additional infrastructure. It is then a good idea to provide some paying workspaces where people can work hard (after the concert…), hold video conferences if needed, bring in guests for meetings and more.
9 … Play hard
On the other hand, some of the stranded travelers are tourists who are going to miss one or several days of vacation. They intended to play hard, relax, have a good time during their vacation. Being stranded is very frustrating for them. It is the right time to offer them some alternatives while they are stuck. In this situation, creative and out-of-the-box solutions need to be found, quickly. As an example, travelers on their way to some ski vacation may enjoy the use of ski simulators or even workouts with a special coach for physical preparations before skiing.
10. Tie up with the airlines
Bring airlines into the picture too, and create a win-win strategy. When travelers were stuck in Singapore and Malaysia due to the Icelandinc ashcloud, AirAsia offered them heavily discounted flights to regional destinations like Bali and Phuket for a couple of days. How smart!
11. Turn stranded travelers into a community
Everybody talks about social media. Let’s take the first word of it and become social: start talking, socializing with your neighbor. There are many ways (inviting actors, clowns, artists…) to improve the ambiance.
12. Find a solution for individuals and for groups of people
In the end, there is a need to find a solution for everyone but not everyone is like Monty Python actor John Cleese who spent more than £3000 on a taxi journey last April 2010 during the Icelandic volcano event.
Some travelers really have to find an immediate solution no matter what (e.g. Tweet dated 18 June 2011:.” DanielClemens: Best friends weddings missed, grandparents missing graduations, passengers stranded for too long! Flight 420 @Lufthansa “), some others may be OK to wait until things calm down.
This is where services like SOSTravelers.com come into the picture. An experienced travel agent will find the solution even if it requires sending the traveler to another airport, find a room in a hotel when it is not possible to find one using automated services and more.
At SOSTravelers, we are also looking to provide collective solutions so that a group of travelers who may not know each other at first but share the same aims become an ad-hoc community. This community may then be able to find some cost effective solutions that would not have been found on an individual basis such as renting together a car, hiring a bus or even a plane.
What do you think about these methods? Are there others you’ve tried or experienced? Let’s hear it in comments or over on Twitter (@simpliflying)