FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List 2017

All 25 members of the FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List receive a complimentary Golden Ticket to Future Travel Experience Global 2017, 6-8 September, Las Vegas. 

The Future Travel Experience Airline Passenger Experience Power List is an independent annual initiative that identifies the 25 airline employees who are most empowered to enhance the end-to-end passenger experience, both at their own airline and on a global scale by raising customer experience benchmarks. 

It is important to note that the Power List is not simply a ranking of today’s top 25 airline customer experiences, but rather a list of the top 25 individuals who have led significant customer-focused improvements over the last 12 months and have the ability, experience and tools at their disposal to further enhance the end-to-end customer experience in the months ahead at their respective airlines.  

All of the figures on the Power List are ultimately responsible for the end-to-end customer experience within their respective organisations, and have been identified based on a variety of factors, which can be viewed in detail at the bottom of this page. In recognition of their important role in raising passenger experience benchmarks, every member of the FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List will be granted a complimentary ‘Golden Ticket’ to Future Travel Experience Global 2017, which will take place in Las Vegas from 6-8 September 2017. FTE Global is firmly established as the annual meeting place where the industry’s customer experience and innovation leaders gather to define their future strategies.


Piia Karhu, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, Finnair


Finnair has developed a reputation for customer-focused innovation and is undertaking a number of initiatives to bring about improvements both in-flight and on the ground. The carrier, which was the first in Europe to take delivery of the A350 XWB, offers an impressive Nordic Sky IFEC and retail portal, while it has committed to equipping its A320s with high-speed Wi-Fi between now and summer 2018. Earlier this year, Finnair became the first airline in the world to launch Alipay onboard, while it recently reassumed the control and responsibility for preparing and developing in-flight meals as part of its strategy to improve the in-flight experience. On the ground, the airline is currently trialling facial recognition technology at Helsinki Airport, while it has undertaken a recruitment drive to support its plans to leverage digitisation going forward. Thanks to a big focus on improving the end-to-end passenger experience, Piia Karhu, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, is #25 on the Power List.


Edouard F. Piquet, Senior Vice President Customer Experience, Aeromexico

edouard piquet aeromexico
aeromexico logo
Following its investment in 60 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and 9s, Aeromexico is making a big effort to enhance its customer experience both in-flight and on the ground. The carrier has introduced Gogo’s 2Ku high-speed Wi-Fi to provide passengers with in-flight connectivity, and last year its trial of in-flight Netflix streaming highlighted its desire to move with the times and meet the evolving demands of travellers. In late 2016, Aeromexico announced the launch of its new “digital ecosystem”, a multi-platform initiative which includes a new website and app, and investment in automation at airports. As part of this project, the airline outlined its strategy to “to develop a personalised and connected end-to-end passenger experience at each point of contact”. Technology is very much at the heart of Aeromexico’s customer experience improvement plans, as is also highlighted by the recent launch of an AI-powered customer service chatbot. The airline is equally dedicated to bringing more transparency to the travel experience, and has committed to TripAdvisor’s airline reviews platform to provide passengers with the opportunity to leave candid reviews of their experience. As the man ultimately responsible for the carrier’s customer experience, Edouard F. Piquet, Senior Vice President Customer Experience, is #24 on the 2017 Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Bo Lingam, Deputy Group CEO (Operations), AirAsia

bo lingam airasia
air asia logo
With year-on-year passenger growth hovering around the double-digit mark, AirAsia’s reach continues to extend, as does its efforts to improve its end-to-end customer experience. The carrier has long been an advocate of self-service technology but it is now turning its attentions to digital transformation. For a low-cost carrier its in-flight product is strong, with the roKKi portal providing connectivity and entertainment options. In April 2017, AirAsia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Inmarsat to upgrade its in-flight connectivity product to the high-speed GX Aviation service, paving the way for further improvements to roKKi. Investments are being made on the ground, too. For instance, in late-2016 the new 24-hour Premium Red lounge was opened at Kuala Lumpur International Airport; another rarity for a low-cost airline. In response to the increasing number of business travellers flying with AirAsia, the LCC has also launched “MyCorporate” – a suite of products aimed specifically at business travellers. Furthermore, as the carrier prepares for future growth, a major investment is being made in new aircraft, as is highlighted by a firm order for 100 A321neos. Bo Lingam, Deputy Group CEO (Operations), is #23 on the Power List.


Kenny Jacobs, Chief Marketing Officer, Ryanair

edouard piquet aeromexico
ryan-air logo
Ryanair’s customer experience standing has risen in recent years, thanks to the adoption of a more customer-focused approach and the launch of its Always Getting Better (AGB) programme. Year 4 of the AGB programme includes the introduction of connecting flights for the first time in the low-cost carrier’s history and the rollout of phase two of its “My Ryanair” programme, which will evolve to include tailored offers and incentives. Improvements are also being made to its “Plus” products. The carrier has made no secret of its desire to become the “Amazon of travel” and it is now taking real action in its attempt to achieve this ambition. Ryanair Rooms, the LCC’s accommodation platform, is being expanded, while Ryanair Holidays is being rolled out across all markets. In addition, the carrier is working on “express booking”, which will allow customers to select pre-saved preferences, as well as auto check-in for passengers who reserve outbound and inbound seats. Ryanair carried more than 120 million passengers in the year to 31 March 2017, a +13% year-on-year increase. As its customer base continues to grow, the AGB programme is helping to ensure that its customer experience improves each year. Kenny Jacobs, Chief Marketing Officer, is responsible for the Ryanair customer experience and is #22 on the FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Paul Loo, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer, Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways logo
The addition of the A350-900 to Cathay Pacific’s fleet – which includes a latest-generation IFE system, Wi-Fi, power outlets and a fully-flat business class product – has proven to be an important element of its customer experience strategy. Its high-level onboard product and service are among the best in the industry, while its dedicated Innovation Centre has delivered solutions such as the Service Matrix app to help crew deliver the best possible customer service. Lately, the Cathay Dragon website has been merged into the Cathay Pacific website to provide customers with a more seamless online experience. This forms part of the larger rebranding of what was formerly Dragonair. Cathay has also introduced an improved booking process and has vowed to use data-driven insights to create more personalised services across all devices. As the person now responsible for driving all of Cathay Pacific’s customer-related activities, Paul Loo, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer, is #21 on the Power List.


Mike Tod, Chief Marketing and Customer Officer, Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand
For a relatively small airline in global terms, Air New Zealand certainly makes a big impression when it comes to customer experience. The carrier, which is scheduled to take delivery of the first of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners featuring a new seating configuration in late 2017, is making a big effort to improve onboard comfort. Its B777-300s are also being refurbished, with all cabin classes receiving an upgrade to more closely align them with the Dreamliner experience. In April 2017, a new economy seat was unveiled for its A320neos. On the ground, $100 million is being invested in improving its airport lounge network, and many other eye-catching initiatives highlight Air NZ’s dedication to embracing innovation and improving the passenger experience. For instance, it recently became the first carrier to explore if the Microsoft HoloLens device can help flight attendants deliver more personalised levels of service in-flight, and plans are in place to enhance its AI-powered chatbot, Oscar, to support passengers at various stages of the journey. Mike Tod, Chief Marketing and Customer Officer, is #20 on the Power List.


Anne Rigail, Executive Vice President Customer, Air France

Air France’s passenger numbers may have dipped slightly in 2016 but the airline is still making a strong effort to improve its customer experience. In recent months the carrier has taken delivery of its first two Boeing 787s, and by the end of 2018, the fleet will include six Dreamliners. Each will feature the revamped premium economy cabin and Wi-Fi connectivity. Elsewhere, Air France has taken an innovative approach to helping to keep passengers relaxed while travelling and has recently launched an in-flight meditation programme. In addition, a number of initiatives have been introduced to help keep younger travellers entertained. On the ground, the airline’s lounges at CDG have been the subject of investment, and self-service technology has been implemented to allow seamless access. In 2016, Air France set up a data centralisation platform as part of its efforts to deliver a more personalised experience to its customers, while it recently hosted a “Customer Priority Hackathon” to identify new ways to improve the passenger experience, again highlighting the importance of customer experience. As efforts continue to drive customer-focused improvements, Anne Rigail, Executive Vice President Customer, Air France, is #19 on the Power List.


Ben Minicucci, President & Chief Operating Officer, Alaska Airlines

ben minicucci alaska airlines
alaska airlines logo
The acquisition of Virgin America has significantly expanded Alaska Airlines’ reach, and the combined operation has created a customer base of around 40 million annual travellers. In March 2017, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America outlined their shared vision for the future. While this vision will see the combined company adopt Alaska’s name and logo, Alaska Airlines has promised that a number of Virgin America’s well-regarded, customer-focused features will remain. The next few years promises to be a busy time for the new-look carrier. In 2018, Alaska will debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats, and has already started to retrofit existing Boeing aircraft with features such as mood lighting. The entire fleet of Boeing 737s will be equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi beginning next year, with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow, and the Premium Class seating will be extended to more aircraft. In addition, Alaska has made its free IFE streaming service a permanent fixture, and passengers can also use the Free Chat service to stay connected via social media while flying. Other enhancements to come include the planned rollout of meal pre-ordering, as well as an investment in upgrading the Alaska lounge network. The carrier has a big opportunity to make a customer experience statement and as the man ultimately responsible for leading the integration process, Ben Minicucci, President & Chief Operating Officer, is #18 on the Power List.


Stephanie Smitt Lindberg, Vice President, Customer Journey & Loyalty, SAS Scandinavian Airlines

stephanie smitt lindberg sas scandinavian airlines
SAS’ recent acquisition of new wide-body aircraft, including the A350-900 XWB, coupled with makeovers for its existing long-haul fleet, have set the carrier up well for future growth. Now, significant efforts are being made to deliver product and service improvements across the board and attention has turned to the short-haul fleet. One of the early-movers in Europe when it comes to in-flight connectivity, SAS has signed a deal with ViaSat for high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi on its short- and medium-haul aircraft. In October 2016, the first of 30 A320neos was delivered. This aircraft includes SAS’ refreshed cabin interior, a lighting system that aligns with the time of day, and USB outlets at seats to keep personal devices charged. In addition to the 30 new A320neos, 70 existing cabins will be upgraded between 2017 and mid-2019. While all of this work goes on, SAS Lab, the airline’s dedicated innovation lab, continues to explore how new technology can be used to redefine the travel experience. Stephanie Smitt Lindberg, VP Customer Journey & Loyalty, is #17 on this year’s FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Takayuki Aze, Vice President, CS & Product Services Department, ANA All Nippon Airways

all nippon airways
In keeping with its strategy of becoming the “world’s leading airline group by customer satisfaction and value creation”, ANA Group continues to invest in improving the All Nippon Airways end-to-end experience. A number of improvements are being made to the ground experience. For instance, at Narita Airport the departure lobby has been redesigned and a “Chef Service” has been added in the ANA Lounge. The carrier is clearly willing to think outside the box. For instance, at Haneda Airport T2 counters have been colour coded to make the passenger experience more intuitive. Also, passengers can make use of self-service check-in and baggage facilities if they so wish (in fact, ANA was the first Japanese carrier to offer self-service bag drop). Customer service is also toward the top of the list of priorities. ANA has introduced an airport customer service skill contest to improve hospitality, as well as an Omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) expert contest for cabin attendants. This focus on hospitality is complemented by a high quality in-flight product, including an impressive IFE offer, live TV and Wi-Fi access. Furthermore, a dedicated Digital Design Lab is playing an active role in defining the future direction of the airline and the wider industry. Takayuki Aze, Vice President, CS & Product Services Department, is #16 on the Power List.


Akif Konar, Chief Commercial Officer, Turkish Airlines

More than 62 million passengers flew with Turkish Airlines last year and although this is only a slight increase on 2015, to put the carrier’s growth into perspective, it is a 30 million rise compared to just five years earlier. Big investment is being made in fleet modernisation and although Turkish Airlines has deferred some aircraft orders, the carrier is still committed to 39 new A321neos by 2020, as well as 38 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and 10 737 MAX 9s by 2023. To help drive innovation, the carrier has a dedicated digital innovation unit, while new initiatives have been introduced of late to improve the travel experience. For example, its Miniport baggage delivery service has been expanded in scope, while IFEC enhancements continue, including an extension of its Wi-Fi and live TV services. With passenger experience improvements being introduced apace, and with a huge reach in terms of passenger numbers, Akif Konar, Chief Commercial Officer, who is ultimately responsible for the customer experience, is #15 on the 2017 Power List.


Hiroshi Kuroda, Vice President Products & Service Administration Department, Japan Airlines


Japan Airlines’ dedication to raising the passenger experience benchmark is perhaps best highlighted by its new Boeing 787-9. The aircraft features the new JAL Sky Suite III in business class and a highly regarded premium economy cabin, while the economy class cabin really stands out, thanks to the 2-4-2 seating configuration; an unmatched setup that has allowed the airline to enhance economy comfort. This dedication to improving the economy class experience extends to all of its international services. Meanwhile, on domestic services, passengers can now enjoy free internet access and content streaming as standard. On the ground, efforts are being made to deliver improvements, too. A number of its popular Sakura Lounges are being upgraded, while the carrier is also exploring how new and emerging technologies can improve the airport experience. For example, in April a trial was undertaken to examine how “mobile robots” can help passengers transport their luggage inside the terminal. All of this is complemented by an ongoing investment in digital channels. Hiroshi Kuroda, Vice President Products & Service Administration Department, comes in at #14 on the 2017 Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Edward Thorstad, Chief Customer Officer, Norwegian Air Shuttle

norwegian logo
As Norwegian Air Shuttle continues to grow its low-cost, long-haul network, it is not only delivering a positive customer experience but forcing its competitors to up their game in the battle for passenger loyalty. Dreamliner-operated transatlantic services, an impressive IFE product and free in-flight Wi-Fi all make for good reading. The carrier has one of the youngest fleets in the world and in 2019 will take delivery of its first A321LR. Norwegian’s passengers flying to the US from Dublin or Shannon can make use of the US Preclearance facilities to avoid immigration queues after landing, while the carrier has recently partnered with a number of lounge operators to offer members of its own loyalty programme discounted entry rates. In 2016 alone, Norwegian launched 34 new routes, added 21 new aircraft to its fleet and increased its passenger numbers by +14% to more than 29 million. As expansion continues, every effort is being made to deliver a passenger experience to be proud of, which is why Edward Thorstad, Chief Customer Officer, is #13 on the Power List.


Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines, Air Canada

Having carried almost 45 million passengers in 2016, Air Canada is reaping the rewards of a multi-year transformation strategy. Its fleet renewal plans are focused around the Boeing 787 and 737 MAX, and in 2016 Air Canada finalised a firm order for 45 Bombardier C-Series aircraft. In 2016, the airline made a big investment in improving its premium experience, with dedicated premium check-in areas and concierge offices opened in select airports, and a Premium Agent service launched to offer personalised assistance. Over the last year or so, it has also introduced self-service bag drop in Calgary, and plans to expand the service to other Canadian hubs. In addition, onboard Wi-Fi is now available across the mainline narrow-body fleet, and the carrier is planning to introduce connectivity on its mainline wide-body fleet, as well as on Air Canada rouge aircraft. Furthermore, Air Canada is now leveraging a new customer relationship management system to gain customer insights on travel patterns and preferences, and to deliver a more personalised customer experience. Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines, is #12 on the FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Joanna Geraghty, Executive Vice President, Customer Experience, JetBlue

Joanna Geraghty
Widely regarded as one of the most innovative and forward-thinking airlines in North America, JetBlue has introduced a number of initiatives of late as part of its effort to positively differentiate its end-to-end customer experience. On the ground, a combination of self-service technology and hospitality-trained staff is helping to streamline the check-in and bag drop process. Its “self-service lobby” concept can now be found in a number of US airports, ranging from JFK to LAX, offering passengers self-service check-in and self-tagging facilities, a dedicated zone for premium Mint customers and Mosaic members, and free terminal-wide Wi-Fi. JetBlue is also exploring the potential of biometric technology and recently launched a trial of facial recognition technology at the boarding gate in Boston. In-flight, the carrier is aiming to provide passengers with “an experience like your living room”, with high-speed Wi-Fi, free movies, Amazon Video streaming and live TV among the highlights. The Mint transcontinental expansion plan is also gathering pace, extending the reach of its premium onboard product, which includes fully lie-flat seats. Meanwhile, JetBlue Technology Ventures continues to incubate, invest in and partner with early stage start-ups as part of the carrier’s plans to play a central role in defining the future of the industry. As the person ultimately in charge of the JetBlue experience, Joanna Geraghty, Executive Vice President, Customer Experience, is #11 on the Power List.


Marvin Tan, Senior Vice President Product & Services, Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines logo
An enviable reputation among travellers and a continued investment in further enhancing its customer experience place Singapore Airlines highly on the 2017 Power List. The carrier places a big focus on both product and service. Recently, the carrier’s premium economy seating has been introduced on a variety of routes, a number of flight attendants have been put through the Cabin Crew Leaders Programme, and onboard connectivity investments continue, with the high-speed GX Aviation service on order. As well as having access to the latest generation seatback IFE systems, passengers flying on A350-900s and selected B777-300ERs also have access to a Companion App, which allows for personal devices to be used as a second IFE screen. On the ground, Singapore Airlines is continually examining how to create a more seamless passenger experience. As well as offering passengers self-service options in the check-in hall at a number of major airports, in May 2017 Singapore Airlines became the first Asian carrier to join the TSA PreCheck programme, which will simplify the US airport security process for eligible passengers. Already an operator of the A350, SIA continues to invest in modernising its fleet and earlier this year placed a firm order with Boeing for 20 777-9s and 19 787-10s. Marvin Tan, Senior Vice President Product & Services, is #10 on the 2017 Power List.


Paul Jones, Executive Manager, Customer and Digital Strategy, Qantas

paul jones qantas
Customer experience remains at the heart of Qantas’ proposition. The Australian carrier is preparing to receive the first of its 787-9 Dreamliners, which will feature the Business Suite, Qantas’ new premium economy product and updated economy class seats. Recently, the carrier has also invested in in-flight connectivity, and forged relationships with the likes of Spotify and Netflix for onboard streaming. The airline is also paying close attention to the start-up scene and has launched its AVRO Accelerator programme, while it has also established an air travel health and wellbeing partnership with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to help define the future direction of its long-haul experience. Qantas’ recent technology investments extend to a new virtual reality app that allows travellers to preview destinations, as well as the Qantas Concierge Facebook Messenger chatbot. Efforts are also being made to differentiate the premium travel experience, as is highlighted by the development of Premium Lounge Entry at Brisbane Airport, which provides eligible customers a dedicated check-in area, bag drop, security screening and direct access to the new Qantas Lounge Precinct. With efforts being made to improve the Qantas experience across the board, Paul Jones, Executive Manager, Customer and Digital Strategy, comes in at #9 on the Power List.


Kate Gebo, Senior Vice President, Customer Service Delivery, United Airlines

United Airlines logo
Although United Airlines hit the headlines for the wrong reasons earlier in 2017, the carrier now has a big opportunity to improve its customer experience as it seeks to enhance its image. It seems United has learned a few lessons and it recently announced substantial changes to its customer policies and procedures. The carrier is also making a big investment in driving product improvements. In March 2017, the all-new United Polaris business product took to the skies, and the transcontinental Business Class and Economy Plus products have recently been enhanced. In economy, free snacks are back on the menu across the board, and Wi-Fi is available across the domestic and international mainline fleets. Proving its customer service credentials is a big issue for United, and employees are now being empowered to resolve customer service issues on the spot and additional annual training has been introduced, while a “no questions asked” policy has been rolled out for lost luggage to help reduce frustration for passengers. As for the airport experience, United is working hard to improve the airport security experience and was the first US carrier to open automated screening lanes at multiple airports. The airline is working closely with the TSA to modernise the security process at a number of its largest hubs. Furthermore, hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in improving the customer experience at a number of major US airports, such as the $277 million upgrade project at IAH. The carrier has almost unrivalled reach when it comes to the size of its customer base – 143 million passengers flew with United Airlines in 2016 – and as the head of the integrated customer service team that is responsible for elevating the travel experience, Kate Gebo, Senior Vice President, Customer Service Delivery, is #8 on the 2017 FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List.


Linda Celestino, Vice President Guest Experience, Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways has an enviable reputation when it comes to premium travel – the luxurious “The Residence” provides the best example of why – but its focus on customer experience is not limited to those who fly at the front of the aircraft. For instance, economy class customers are now able to pay for access to Etihad’s portfolio of premium lounges around the world, while a free stopover in Abu Dhabi, including accommodation, is also offered to passenger departing from certain countries. Despite only being founded in 2003, the UAE flag carrier has already played a big role in raising customer experience benchmarks. Since receiving its first 787 Dreamliner two years ago, the carrier has reported positive feedback from passengers and this calendar year alone it will receive nine new 787-9s, featuring Business Studios and Economy Smart seats. Etihad’s fleet, which also includes the A380 and will soon include the A350-1000, is among the youngest in the world. The airline is always keen to be seen as first-mover and earlier this year it successfully implemented the New Distribution Capability (NDC) booking standard, which should help to bring more transparency to the booking process. In late-2016, a new Android app was introduced by the airline, including a credit card scan function for payment and a passport scan feature to simplify mobile check-in. Meanwhile, Etihad’s “Source, Develop, Engage and Deliver” programme is helping to improve service levels, while a long-term partnership with IBM is empowering the company to enhance the customer experience and improve efficiency. Linda Celestino, Vice President Guest Experience, is #7 on the Power List.


Kerry Philipovitch, Senior Vice President – Customer Experience, American Airlines

The world’s largest airline by passenger numbers, American Airlines is constantly under pressure to improve its customer experience, especially when you consider the intense competition among US carriers. Some of its recent announcements – such as the decision not to include embedded IFE on its 737 MAX aircraft – have raised eyebrows, but other efforts to improve the customer experience cannot be ignored. It has launched a new premium economy product, brought back free economy class meals on select coast-to-coast flights, delivered IFE improvements on domestic flights, and made a big investment in latest-generation high-speed Wi-Fi. Also, American’s major fleet modernisation programme continues as it strives to bring more consistency to the passenger experience. Premium passengers can now also take advantage of “restaurant-style” Flagship Dining, which has been introduced as part of a wider investment in improving its Flagship Lounges. American is working with the TSA to improve the airport security screening process, while it has also invested in Computed Tomography (CT) technology as part of its focus on enhancing airport security. The $1.6 billion set aside to upgrade terminals 4 and 5 at LAX further highlights American’s commitment to improving the airport experience. Kerry Philipovitch, Senior Vice President – Customer Experience, is ultimately responsible for enhancing the carrier’s passenger experience and she comes in at #6 on the Power List.


Adel Ahmad Al Redha, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Emirates

Amidst intense competition from its fellow Middle East-based airlines, Emirates is continuing to pull out all the stops to improve its end-to-end customer experience. Since last year’s Power List was published, Emirates has started to take delivery of its new generation A380 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which feature an upgraded business class seat. The carrier’s high-end in-flight service, impressive “ice” IFE system and free Wi-Fi access are also passenger experience positives. Later this year, a new first class product will be unveiled and the carrier is also expected to launch its new premium economy product before the end of 2018. Improving the airport experience is also a priority for Emirates. A number of projects are being driven by the “Together” initiative, a collaborative project that has brought together the airline, Dubai Customs, Dubai General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, Dubai Police and Dubai Airports to help improve the customer experience at DXB. Investment in two new projects, making use of biometric technology, has already been confirmed. With the collaborative project likely to bring about a number of ground-based improvements to complement the in-flight enhancements, Adel Ahmad Al Redha, EVP and Chief Operations Officer, is #5 on the Power List.


Boet Kreiken, Executive Vice President, Customer Experience, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is firmly established as one of the most pioneering airlines in the industry and in recent months has launched a number of inventive, passenger-focused initiatives. For instance, flight documents and flight information are now available directly through social media channels, passengers can ask questions via a Facebook Messenger chatbot, and those visiting Amsterdam will soon be able to use the location-aware KLM Care Tag, which offers useful advice and tips while traversing the city. The carrier is also using an artificial intelligence based system to support its customer service staff. In the airport environment, biometrics is high up on the agenda and KLM is trialling “biometric boarding” at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The airline has also forged a “Design Doing” partnership with Delft University of Technology, with the aim of developing new products and optimising existing KLM processes in an operational environment. The improvements extend to the in-flight experience, too. KLM is currently modernising the World Business Class cabin interiors on all of its Airbus A330s, bringing the aircraft into line with the Boeing 777-200, 747-400, 777-300 and 787 fleets. Furthermore, high-speed connectivity will be added to 29 B777s and 12 A330s starting later this year. Thanks to this indisputable dedication to improving and simplifying the passenger experience, Boet Kreiken, KLM’s Executive Vice President, Customer Experience, is #4 on the Power List.


Akbar Al Baker, Group Chief Executive, Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways grabbed the industry’s attention in March 2017 when it unveiled its business class Qsuite – a groundbreaking premium, flexible suite that typifies the airline’s dedication to differentiating its in-flight offer and pushing customer experience benchmarks upwards. In recent years, Qatar Airways’ customer-focused improvements have been driven by Rossen Dimitrov, but following his departure to WestJet, Akbar Al Baker has taken on full responsibility for further improving the Doha-based carrier’s passenger experience. Continued improvements to the IFEC offer – including investment in the high-speed GX Aviation connectivity service – are helping to raise the onboard experience and across the board efforts are being made to improve the digital offer, as is highlighted by the upgrades made to the Qatar Airways app in late-2016. Meanwhile, at its Hamad International Airport hub, a Smart Airport vision is in place, laying the foundations for the airline to implement the latest technologies to simplify the passenger experience in the years ahead. In the last fiscal year, Qatar Airways’ passenger numbers increased by more than 5 million to 32 million, and there is little doubt that the airline will continue to invest in redefining the customer experience. With this in mind, Akbar Al Baker, Group Chief Executive, is #3 on the Power List.


Gil West, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Delta Air Lines

. Gil West
As the battle between the major US carriers rages on, customer experience is towards the very top of Delta’s list of priorities. The Delta One Suite – the first business class product to feature a sliding privacy door – and the new Delta Premium Select product will enter service later this year, the Delta Comfort+ product has been expanded to regional aircraft, and more than 1,000 Delta aircraft are already equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi. In fact, over the next two years, Delta is set to install more than 600 aircraft with the high-speed 2Ku connectivity service, including its new A350s and C-Series aircraft. The Guest Service Tool is also empowering flight attendants to better serve premium customers onboard. Economy class passengers also have something to smile about, after Delta announced in February 2017 a plan to re-introduce free meals on 12 of its longest US routes. On the ground, customer-facing staff members are being empowered with so-called “Nomad” devices, which allow them to roam the terminal and serve passengers on the spot. A “biometric boarding pass experience” is being trialled at Reagan Washington National Airport and biometric bag drop is being tested at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The carrier is also working with the TSA to introduce automated security screening lanes at a number of airports, while its Sky Club investment continues. In addition, baggage is an important area of focus for Delta, which has invested $50 million in RFID technology to improve baggage handling rates and improved its app to include live baggage updates. As the person ultimately responsible for Delta’s customer experience, Gil West, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, is #2 on the Power List.


Reinhold Huber, Vice President Customer Experience Design, Lufthansa

Reinhold Huber
At every stage of the end-to-end travel process, Lufthansa is making a concerted effort to improve and simplify the customer experience. A total of 62 million passengers flew with Lufthansa in 2016 and although other airlines on this Power List can boast a bigger customer base, it is the German carrier that is doing the most to enhance the overall passenger experience. Digitisation is a crucial part of Lufthansa’s strategy and hundreds of millions of euros are being invested in developing personalised digital products. On the ground, artificial intelligence has been embraced to develop a dedicated chatbot and Google Home personal assistant; an auto check-in service has been developed; and touchless bag drop, mobile baggage receipts and instant compensation have been rolled out. The airline has also been exploring the potential of personal cinema and virtual reality headsets in airport lounges and at departure gates. Meanwhile, Lufthansa Innovation Hub is dedicated to leveraging the opportunities created by new and emerging technologies, and engaging closely with the fast-moving start-up scene. A number of improvements have been delivered in-flight, too. For instance, high-speed Wi-Fi is being introduced on its short- and medium-haul services. After taking delivery of its first A350-900 earlier this year, Lufthansa launched its “Companion App”, which allows passengers to create an IFE playlist on their personal device, sync the device with the IFE system after boarding and then use their smartphone as a second IFE screen. Flight attendants have also been equipped with iPad minis as part of the airline’s “year of digitisation”. In addition, Lufthansa is working on a completely redesigned business class product for the Boeing 777X, which is scheduled to take off in 2020. Alongside all of this, Lufthansa has a dedicated “SMILE” initiative in place – Surpass My Individual Lufthansa Experience ­– which is all about making use of digital technology, big data and analytics to deliver more personalised customer experiences. Lufthansa is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to improve the end-to-end passenger experience, which is why Reinhold Huber, Vice President Customer Experience Design, is #1 on the 2017 FTE Airline Passenger Experience Power List.

Power List criteria

Each member of the Power List has been selected based on a variety of factors, including: the extent to which the individual and airline have displayed fresh thinking to improve and differentiate their end-to-end offer (on the ground and in-flight); the extent to which passengers and staff are being empowered through new technology; efforts made to engage more closely with customers; recent passenger experience achievements and future plans; the airline’s customer experience reach in terms of passenger numbers and growth ambitions; the consistency of the passenger experience on offer; and the extent to which the individual and the airline are striving to create a unique customer experience that reflects both the carrier’s brand and heritage. In order to qualify for the Power List, individuals must be responsible for the end-to-end passenger experience.


Comments are closed.