The aviation industry has never been guaranteed plain sailing (or flying), but it is hard to remember a time when its failures have been so prevalent in Britain’s news agenda.
With millions facing airport delays and an epidemic of cancelled flights, it is clear that the traditional commercial aviation model is broken.
In the space of a fortnight, Ryanair’s widespread cancellation of flights has pushed their competitors, including EasyJet, Cityjet and Jet2, to their operating limits in order to accommodate stranded passengers.
With Ryanair accused of imposing unreasonable price restrictions on rerouting flights, the Commercial Aviation Authority (CAA) has been forced to intervene. Passengers have been left marooned – and understandably indignant.
Ryanair’s very public and very significant misstep has been swiftly followed by the death of one of the UK’s most famous airlines, Monarch. A failing business is never good news, but in aviation the consequences are immediate and painful.
Monarch’s collapse has left more than 100,000 customers stranded overseas and all future flights from the UK cancelled. With holidays ruined, meetings postponed, and travel plans in tatters, once again the CAA must step in with emergency measures to ease what is already a crisis for the industry.
Monarch, helped to its demise by the falling pound, is not unique in its failure – nor is this trend confined to the UK. Just over a month ago, Air Berlin joined the list of doomed airlines.
So what caused this change in course for what has traditionally been seen as a glamorous and cash-rich industry? First there’s the rise of low cost airlines. Instead of prompting more established carriers to innovate and improve their services, the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet are dragging down their competitors at both ends of the industry.
Holidaymaker airlines like Monarch became embroiled in a race to the bottom on price, while at the top end, commercial business travellers no longer get what they pay for when it comes to service.
In addition, traditional air travel generally doesn’t fit with our modern way of life. With Uber, Netflix and Deliveroo used by millions, we’ve become accustomed to having what we want when we want it. Airlines expect us to arrive two hours before a flight, only to endure several lengthy queues before departure.
What passengers really need is a genuine alternative, not just a bit of extra legroom. Consumers expect flexibility, convenience and the personal touch – all of which are currently under-serviced by traditional commercial airlines. They should be treated like people being given an experience, not simply numbers on a seat manifest.
With the recent troubles for Monarch and Ryanair, coupled with world-class innovators such as Elon Musk promising to transform the whole concept of travel, airlines should be under no illusions – now is the time to change or die.
There will always be a need for air travel, but as we have seen in industries such as public transportation, there is room for innovative and disruptive companies to reinvent and improve the sector beyond recognition.
The current chaos within the aviation industry, of which Monarch is a victim, leaves the door open for new players to enter the market. As with other industries, the value of time, achieved by shorter queuing times in the airport, personalised service, choice, and adaptability will go a long way for the regular flyer.
Technology offers more opportunities to streamline travel, meaning traditional airlines must redefine their USP to find their markets, sharpen their focus, and improve their offerings – or face being grounded for good.