“Past Frequent Flyers”: How to Lose your customer, learn form Airlines!

Pankaj Thakar
February 1, 2021

Airlines remain very indifferent to their customers, specially to their “past Frequent Fliers”! I say past as all senior executives, who fly frequently, take a career break every now and then and reduce their flying frequency, becoming “past Frequent Flyers” I am not sure how much data analyses airlines indulge into, but in my experience, they are worst at it as all these “past Frequent Flyers” are very upset including me!

While I was in USA in early 2000 for several years, I started using United Airlines only as I could collect points and fly my family to USA form India and vice-e-versa. Also, I was flying various continents, I could get easy connection and the tickets were competitively price. I was primarily flying economy as part of a startup and enjoyed. Occasionally, on very long flight, I upgraded myself to Premier Economy that was introduced in later part of my stay. The upgrade came without any fuss, right on the counter and even in last must.

Between 2004 and 2012, I had patronize Jet Airways, an Indian airlines in India and flew almost weekly all around the country and at-least once in a quarter, overseas. I must have clocked hundred and thousands of miles spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then in 2012, I sold my company and took a sabbatical. I stopped flying domestic and flew overseas once in a quarter to visit my friends and family in USA. I still preferred the same airlines Jet Airways due to familiarity and excellent in-flight service.

Then came a shock. Towards the 3rd quarter of last year, I received a communique form the Jet Airways that I have been downgraded to entry level Blue Status from Platinum! All the benefits were withdrawn! I have no status. I felt like I am suddenly nobody and my existence has been reduced to a first time flyer instead of Frequent Flyer. In fact, just before the news came, I had bought tickets form my next three journeys to Europe and USA, all Biz Class not realizing that airlines is going to dump me as person non-Grata. I felt like being betrayed and was genuinely hurt by the airlines behavior. I even wrote to the airlines and communicated my view point where in I pointed to out that I have been there customer for ten years and don't deserve this treatment. Jet Airways never replied.

This was really upsetting and I decided to change the airlines after almost ten years. I moved to a low cost carrier and dumped the airlines to make it mutual. No more tears but move one to start another relationship. I started taking Indigo Airlines and What a surprise! The ticket was cheaper than Jet, always on time, had less frills & more efficiency and last but not the least, one could buy their way thru for Exit row seats! (I really struggled to get exit row seats on Jet Airways as they were available on first come first serve basis). Indigo has me for a long time till they disappoint me by really defaulting on any of the above. I even flew economy class to Dubai! I am happy that Jet mistreated me!

The came the shock from Indigo. First Indigo never realized that I was their customer. For them, I was just another customer. Fine as I was flying economy at low fares. However, recently I cancelled on of my travels and guess what, I lost half of my money as cancellation charge! There was even a convenience fee of Rs.500 for cancellation. Really! I freaked and started looking at the terms! No where it said that it is going to charge me such a big amount! I am now really upset and wonder what is the regulator doing! How can someone charge a hefty amount for cancelling a service that has not being used! It defies logic. I can understand if it was a product that I took delivery of and then cancelled the order and the merchant has incurred certain charge! I can even understand if the flight was full and it was an opportunity loss for airlines. Nothing like that has happened. I am even ready for airlines to wait till the flight takes off and the seat that I reserved is taken and then refund my monies. What I cannot comprehend is first a cancellation charge and then resell the service that too on a higher price! This is day time robbery! Hope someone agrees!

This raises many questions and I am not trying waste this opportunity by cribbing about how Airlines treat their customer! That is well known. However, all I am trying to do is pointing out an opportunity for good data analytic company to build a solution that can help track, see, follow, engage, retain and reward a customer! So here are the pointers:

I can go on & on! But have to stop as not many people are interested in reading long posts. Also, this is a universal problem, not Indian as recently when I took a United Airlines flight, they refuse to acknowledge me(my FF card was non recognizable!) as I was flying after 10 years with them! Talk about friendly skies!

I may be wrong but please educate me as I have no clue how airlines work.