Airline industry still doesn’t understand the Internet business

Airline passengers are having a tough time. But not for long. Today saw the news that British Airways faced record fines for price fixing. Meanwhile BAA, the owners of London Heathrow are seeking an injunction to ban people from the airport who want to protest about environmental issues. The ban could even include members of the RSPB – a charity devoted to caring for birds.

While the airline industry is focused on how good Heathrow is – or isn’t – and while they chat away about prices and how they can provide a great “customer experience”, their customers are busy surfing the web finding great deals and organising protests against the airlines without having to go near the airports themselves.

Airline seats are now commodities. People are no longer seeking an “experience” in the air. They just want a comfortable seat that gets them where they want to go at the cheapest possible price. The airline industry is still stuck mentally in the 1970s.

Online you can find the cheapest tickets without every going near an individual airline. For instance, if you go to FareCompare and check the “First Class Search” you will be able to find First Class fares that are a special class called “Y-up”. The ticket is really an economy price ticket but you are seated in First Class. Automated search at Internet sites like this enable you to get the very best deals, all without the airlines themselves getting in touch with you until the very last minute when issuing the ticket.

The likes of British Airways are so stuck in the past, the world of the Internet is passing them by. True they sell a lot of tickets online – but they miss out on a lot of sales as well. However, there is a way out of this. They need to make themselves loved online. Internet marketing is more than about finding a flight and choosing a ticket. It’s about reputation. Build a good online reputation, even in a commodity market and people will choose you over similar price competition. But look online for the reputation of the airline industry and you’ll be hard pressed to find much good.

If you run a business, even if it is at commodity price levels, you still need a good reputation online because potential customers can quickly check what you are like, once they have made price comparisons. The company that gets the business will be the one that has the most positive online comments. Generating a positive online reputation could make all the difference. Such a shame the airline industry hasn’t realised that very much.

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