The recovery of the airline industry will take time, but 2021 will surely recover a good part of the ground lost this year. This is the view of the managing director for Latin America, the Caribbean, and South Florida, of Delta Air Lines, Luciano Macagno.
People have a renewed need to travel. The definition of “essential” morphed. Perhaps at the beginning of the pandemic, the executive said, “the essential thing was to purchase something required at home.” The airline finds that more often people feel it is essential to attend a close friend or daughter´s wedding.
The airline also deems that the idea of having a vacation trip is gaining more and more adepts. “Maybe a shorter trip, to a familiar place,” he said. In fact, there has been a recovery in trips to the Caribbean and in tourism to beaches. Macagno expects this upward trend will continue in 2021.
Currently, Delta is focused on upholding its commitment to safety and cleanliness, and on letting travelers know what the airline is doing in these issues.
Delta partnered with the Mayo Clinic to ensure its biosecurity protocols were correct. “We can certify that what we do in terms of safety is, without a doubt, what needs to be done to travel safely,” Macagno said.
Delta implemented practices such as limiting the occupancy of planes and blocking the middle seat and will continue its use at least until January.
The company worked with aircraft manufacturers to explain how the filter technology used in cabin ventilation, makes the air in an aircraft comparable to that of an operating room. “It is purer than the air we breathe in our living room,” he explained.
Delta also works permanently with hotels, land transportation companies, destinations, and the rest of the tourism industry. “We are all rowing in the same direction. We give importance to the same things. We understand how important it is to instill confidence to travelers, in a scenario like the one we have.”
Their message of safety and cleanliness is delivered in conjunction with cities and other agents in the value chain. “We have partnered and will continue to do so, with islands, in programs in the Caribbean, with countries in Central America, in Europe and in Latin America.” He believes that their partnerships must intensify their efforts to re-educate travelers, to help them adapt to the new reality.
Permanent communication with passengers and travel agencies became crucial for the airline. It must let them know how the experience of flying has changed. “Is different. We prioritize the most important issues for passengers, which have to do with safety and cleanliness.”
“I am glad to see that more people are pleasantly surprised by what they find,” he said. Delta’s customer satisfaction surveys are higher than ever, Macagno said. Previously, satisfaction was highly influenced by the quality of the food on board. Now the airline worries about the things that concern customers the most, he explained.
Communication is necessary for infrequent travelers and for people who used to live on an airplane. “It doesn’t matter how many times you traveled to a destination on business. If I had to travel today, I would have a list of questions about what has changed since March.” This requires a faster cadence in communication, he added.
Delta’s communication model is characterized by being two-way. “We ask, we listen, we act, and we ask again. It has helped us in the change in recent months, and now we will only accelerate this process. Digitization allows us a more direct, faster, more up-to-date communication with our customers, which allows us to react more quickly to customer needs and tastes.”
Luciano Macagno’s message of transformation is optimistic and strong: “Those who have not traveled do not know what they are missing. Until they travel again, our clients will not know how well prepared we are.”
The next phase
Delta has two additional action areas where they expect to build a stronger 2021.
One is contract flexibility. In September, they forever eliminated the penalties for changes and cancellation on reservations. This had been a point of client dissatisfaction and the company was evaluating a modification at the beginning of the year, before the pandemic, Macagno stated. In fact, during the first investor’s call of the year, Delta executives announced their intentions of moving on the issue.
On the other hand, the company has all its senses focused on monitoring demand and fine-tuning its ability to react to changes. Luciano Macagno does not find it so easy to predict countries and speeds at which different segments will travel again, but he can precisely tell what is happening with the airline in real-time. “I can tell, with numbers in hand, what is happening every day. We can react quickly and rise to these challenges.” In two years, we will all be going around the world as we did in 2019. The disciplined deployment of these actions in 2020, will help the industry recover and will have Delta executives like Macagno, ready “to tell the story of how aviation, once again, adapted and reinvented itself in circumstances like these.”