Back From The Future:
What would air travel be like tomorrow, if airlines start using the latest social media tools today? asks Simpliflying.com chief executive Shashank Nigam
What if the airline industry suddenly adopts the latest social media tools available today to enhance our travel experience - what would travel be like? Here's a trip report from tomorrow, if airlines use the latest tools today.
Before the flight
It was during St Patrick's Day celebrations in Boston about a year ago, when I tweeted that one of my dreams is to be in Ireland one day and watch the celebrations there first hand. Within hours of the tweet, Aer Lingus replied to my tweet through Twitpic, with a scanned, hand-written letter from their head of marketing for the Americas, awarding me two Business Class return tickets to Dublin for this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations. It was a pleasant surprise, as suddenly a faceless organisation like an airline was not only listening, but also trying to communicate with me and getting me to fly them for the first time.
Of course, I took up the offer. A day before the flight, I checked in online and just before I got to the confirmation page, I was given an option to pre-buy food at a discount. I took up that option. I could also share with my friends that I was going to Dublin on Aer Lingus, using a tool called Flip.to - and I shared my trip info with my friends on Facebook. Not only did I get an additional 500 miles by doing this, within minutes, I started receiving tips from my friends about the best places to check out in Dublin.
At the airport
At the airport, I went to the counter to drop my bags and the process got more interesting! I was asked not if I wanted a window or aisle seat, but for an additional $10, I could choose to sit in "business zone" on the flight, where people of similar interests would be sitting, or "family" zone, or "quiet" zone. I took the "family zone" option. It turns out, this service was being powered by Satisfly, a company which helps airlines do this. I was also given a brochure that explained if during my trip, I "check-in" on Foursquare at five different travel partners of Aer Lingus, I would earn badges and stand a chance to use that service for free. These included checking in at Hertz and an Irish pub. My interest was piqued.
As I got seated, I realised that there was no personal in-flight entertainment on-board the Airbus A330 aircraft. Though I was a little disappointed, I did see power outlets at each seat, which were locked. I was pleasantly surprised when after the seat-belt sign was turned off, flight attendants walked down the aisle holding iPads! I was salivating, and asked for one, but found out that they had to be rented, and were fully-reserved for this flight.
Disappointment soon turned to cheer when she told me that I could still rent the power outlet for $10 and use the Wifi available on-board. I grabbed that opportunity, popped out my Macbook and connected to the internet. On the landing page, I saw advertisements from Aer Lingus' partners and two options for using the Internet. I could either pay $25 for the duration of the flight, and earn miles, or login through Facebook or Twitter, send out an Aer Lingus message and get it for free. I chose the latter option. The family next to me were busy live-streaming happenings from the flight on Skype, speaking with their family back home! This was turning out to be a memorable flight!
The future is now. Airline executives need to embrace new technologies NOW in order to take control of their future. Most of the tools I mentioned are available today, for free, or almost free. There just needs to be a decision taken to start. There are three types of airline executives in the world. Those who make things happen. Those who watch things happen. And those who wonder why things happened. Which category do you want to be in?
Youngest winner of Global Brand Leadership Award, Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying.com, an award winning blog on airline branding. He tweets at @simpliflying and helps airlines, airports and hotels drive revenue and loyalty through social media conversations.