Service delays are commons experiences for airline customers. Passengers deem these delays a waste of their time and judge the airlines quality of service on the basis of the duration. Despite being commonplace these delays negatively affect the emotional responses and behavioural intentions of passengers. The challenge is to reduce the passengers anger and perceived length of the delay.

Korean researchers1 published the first airline specific research into measuring the impact of delays on passenger sentiment in July 2015. Exploring three emotional elements, anger, uncertainty and acceptance they looked for correlations with two key behaviours, intention to repurchase and negative word of mouth.

The study looked at survey results from 365 delayed passengers, a service delay being defined as the ’perceived’ delay in delivering the service from the airline in question.

The results were very interesting and slightly counter intuitive. They showed that a passenger’s anger grew as the delay lengthened as did uncertainty but whilst uncertainty did not result in reduced intention to purchase or negative word of mouth the feeling of anger significantly reduced the intention to repurchase and showed a strong correlation with negative word of mouth. Such negative behaviour has a real brand and revenue impact.

Acceptability, i.e passengers that accepted the delay, was found to have a positive impact on repurchase intentions suggesting that Airlines can increase acceptability of a delay by carefully timed communications on the state of the delay, perhaps even the cause and by issuing soft or hard vouchers which serve to recognise the impact of the delay on the passenger and reduce the perceived delay by giving the passenger something to do i.e. get a snack.

Put simply if an airline can reduce the perceived length of a service delay and the associated anger that passenger is more likely to rebook with the airline and not spread negative word of mouth. Given the immediacy and reach of social media reducing the negative word of mouth has real brand value.

By Derek Corcoran

1 A study on the impact of airline service delays on emotional reactions and behaviours. Nam Yi Kim, Jin-Woo Park