Travel Disruptions-How The Right Customer Experience Can Build Loyalty

Travel disruptions are an undeniable fact of life for any traveler. From canceled flights to lost luggage, these unexpected events can throw a wrench into even the most meticulously planned itinerary. However, travel companies have the power to significantly influence how customers experience these disruptions by focusing on customer experience (CX). This article will explore the various types of disruptions that can occur at each stage of travel, the importance of CX during these times, and how travel companies can leverage it to transform a negative situation into a positive brand experience.

The Many Faces of Travel Disruptions

Travel disruptions can occur at any point in the journey, from booking to arrival. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common ones:

  • Flight Cancellations: Weather, mechanical issues, and staffing shortages can all lead to flight cancellations. Flight cancellations averaged 2% per month in the first quarter of 2023.
  • Flight Delays: Similar factors can cause flight delays, leading to missed connections and disrupted itineraries. The same Airlines for America report states that on-time arrival rates for domestic flights averaged 78.1% in the first quarter of 2023.
  • Lost or Delayed Luggage: Checked luggage can be mishandled, causing delays or even getting lost entirely. SITA [SITA. (2023, February 9). Baggage mishandling report 2023.] reported a baggage mishandling rate of 6.5 per thousand passengers in 2023.
  • Natural Disasters: Hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters can disrupt travel plans by causing airport closures or forcing changes in itineraries.
  • Travel Restrictions: Pandemics, political unrest, and other events can lead to travel restrictions, requiring travelers to adjust their plans.

Why Customer Experience Matters During Travel Disruptions

Travel disruptions are stressful for everyone involved. However, a positive customer experience during these times can go a long way in mitigating frustration and fostering loyalty. Here’s why CX is crucial:

  • Builds Trust: When a travel company prioritizes customer needs during disruptions, it builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to passenger well-being.
  • Reduces Customer Effort: Clear communication, proactive solutions, and a streamlined process for rebooking or compensation minimize the time and effort required from the customer during a stressful situation.
  • Enhances Brand Reputation: A positive experience during disruptions can turn a potentially negative situation into a positive brand story, encouraging customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Before, During and After Travel Disruptions

Before Travel: Proactive Measures Set the Stage

Disruptions can arise even before the journey begins. Here’s how CX can make a difference:

  • Transparency in Booking: During peak seasons, in weather-prone regions, or during periods of known travel restrictions, clearly communicate potential disruptions to travelers. Avoid sugarcoating the situation; instead, present the facts alongside alternative options. This fosters trust and empowers travelers to make informed decisions.
  • Flexible Booking Options: Offer refundable or changeable fares for a modest fee, allowing travelers to adjust plans if unforeseen circumstances arise. This empowers customers and demonstrates the company’s understanding that unexpected situations can occur.
  • Travel Insurance Recommendations: Educate customers about travel insurance options and their benefits during disruptions such as cancellations or lost luggage. Provide clear information and resources without being pushy, so travelers can make informed choices about protecting their investment.
  • Proactive Communication: Utilize email, SMS, or dedicated app notifications to provide real-time updates on potential disruptions. Don’t wait until the last minute; keep customers informed throughout the booking process, especially if there are any potential issues on the horizon. This transparency builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to customer well-being right from the start.

By being upfront about potential issues and offering tools to mitigate them, travel companies build trust and demonstrate a commitment to customer well-being right from the outset. This foundation of positive CX sets the stage for a smoother travel experience, even if disruptions occur.

During Travel: Turning Disruptions into Solutions

When travel disruptions occur mid-journey, a positive CX approach is paramount:

  • Immediate and Clear Communication: As soon as a potential travel disruption arises, notify customers through multiple channels (email, SMS, app notifications) explaining the situation and offering apologies. Don’t leave them in the dark; transparency is key.
  • Multiple Rebooking Options: Present clear and concise options for rebooking, including alternative flights, different airlines, or itinerary adjustments. Empower customers by giving them choices and control over their travel plans, even in a disrupted situation.
  • 24/7 Customer Support: Ensure readily available customer support through phone lines, live chat features, or social media to address concerns and answer questions promptly. Don’t make customers wait on hold or struggle to find help. Be there for them when they need it most.
  • Airport Assistance: Offer guidance and support at the airport, helping customers navigate rebooking processes, locate amenities, or arrange accommodations if needed. Go the extra mile by providing dedicated personnel to assist stranded travelers during disruptions. This demonstrates that the company cares about their well-being beyond just a confirmation email.

By prioritizing clear communication, offering flexible solutions, and going the extra mile to assist during disruptions, travel companies can minimize customer frustration and turn a negative experience into a positive one. This focus on CX fosters loyalty; customers are more likely to return to a company that helped them navigate a challenging situation effectively.

After Travel: Addressing Concerns and Building Loyalty

The impact of travel disruptions can linger even after the journey. Here’s how CX can continue to shine:

  • Post-Travel Communication: Follow up with customers after a travel disruption to ensure their needs were met and gather feedback on their experience. Don’t assume everything is fine; actively seek their input to identify areas for improvement.
  • Efficient Claims Resolution: Streamline the process for filing and resolving claims related to cancellations, delays, or lost luggage. Don’t make customers jump through hoops to get what they’re owed. Make the process clear, efficient, and hassle-free.
  • Compensation Options: Offer fair compensation for disruptions, such as vouchers for future travel or airport lounge access, demonstrating a commitment to customer satisfaction. Go beyond a simple apology; show customers that you value their business and understand the inconvenience they experienced.
  • Personalized Recovery Efforts: Go beyond basic compensation by offering personalized gestures of goodwill, such as a discount on a future trip or complimentary upgrades based on the severity of the disruption. A handwritten note of apology or a targeted promotion tailored to the customer’s preferences shows that the company cares about the individual customer and their experience.

Case Study: Turning Travel Disruption Into Delight

Let’s consider a fictional example: Sarah books a family vacation to Hawaii through TravelEase, a travel agency known for its exceptional customer service. Unfortunately, their flight is cancelled due to a sudden snowstorm. Here’s how TravelEase (a can leverage CX to manage the situation:

  1. Proactive Communication: TravelEase immediately sends an email and SMS notification to Sarah, informing her of the cancellation and offering apologies. They also provide a dedicated phone number for assistance.
  2. Multiple Rebooking Options: TravelEase agents work with Sarah to explore various rebooking options, including flights on different airlines, alternative travel dates, or even a full refund if needed.
  3. Accommodation Assistance: If Sarah’s original hotel reservation is affected by the delay, TravelEase helps her contact the hotel to adjust her booking or find alternative accommodations.
  4. Keeping Sarah Informed: TravelEase provides regular updates on the situation and any changes to her rebooked flights or itinerary.

By prioritizing clear communication, offering flexible solutions, and going the extra mile to assist Sarah, TravelEase can turn a frustrating situation into a positive experience that builds brand loyalty and encourages her to recommend them to others.

This example can also be extended for online travel agencies, airlines, airports, and other travel aligned companies serving customers.


Southwest Airlines had to navigate around system issues causing travel disruptions (Source: YouTube)

During the 2022 holiday period, Southwest Airlines experienced unexpected system issues that created travel disruptions for thousands of travellers looking to spend time with family and friends in a crucial period. The airline went above and beyond to reach out to affected customers with daily alerts, refund options, and obtained feedback to be a better airline.

With the new processes in place, the airline recovered and scored first in the J.D. Power 2023 North America Airline Satisfaction Index.

J.D. Power 2023 North American Airline Satisfaction Index
J.D. Power 2023 North American Airline Satisfaction Index (Source: J.D. Power)

Measuring the Impact of CX During Disruptions

To understand how CX impacts travel disruptions, travel companies can utilize various metrics:

  • Customer Satisfaction Scores: Gather feedback through surveys or reviews to gauge customer satisfaction with how their disruption was handled. Consider using other scores in combination to Net Promoter Score to segment out the beyond, during, and after travel support satisfaction.
  • Resolution Time: Track the average time it takes to resolve customer issues arising from travel disruptions. This might include resolving a flight cancellation with alternatives, processing claims, serving a delight during/after travel for a before travel disruption.
  • Number of Rebooked Flights: Monitor the number of flights rebooked due to disruptions and customer retention rates after rebooking.
  • Social Media Sentiment: Analyze social media mentions to understand customer sentiment during disruptions and identify areas for improvement.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES): Measure the effort required by customers to resolve issues related to disruptions, aiming for a low CES score.

By tracking these metrics, travel companies can identify areas where CX can be improved during disruptions. There is no one metric to understand all the signals provided in managing travel disruptions. Feeling overwhelmed with data? Operators should focus on where the travel disruptions are impacting customers’ trust the most (especially those that would impact future travel choices).

How Can We Help?

Transformidy is available to assist in different aspects of your company’s customer experience journey from transformation work, training, and partnership.

Contact us or set up a 30 minute complimentary consultation for more information on our services, insights, or showcases. We look forward to hearing from you.

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