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Plane sailing: have airlines recovered from a difficult 2022?

Hermione Hitchin Senior Executive 27/02/2023
Life’s best teachers are born from the worst of mistakes – and for the sake of actually making it past the border this summer, we can only hope this proverb rings true.

The aviation sector took a hit last year – recovering from a pandemic (which led to a severe shortage of trained staff across the industry as restrictions lifted and demand for international holidays returned), coupled with the rising cost of fuel, increasing extreme weather patterns and strike activity across a number of markets, meant major airlines were truly put to the test.

However, latest research from IATA has forecast the air travel industry to realise profits in 2023 – the first time since 2019.

In light of the good news, we thought we would take a look at how one of the UK’s leading airlines has fared over the last year and whether consumers attitudes towards the brand are an indication of the airline bouncing back.

The month of (dis)May

There’s a reason easyJet are one of the most used airlines in the UK. For years, its low prices have allowed the brand to stand out against a pool of competition that would otherwise provide similar services but, in the most part, at higher costs.

More recently however, its services have been less reliable (with cancelled flights due to staffing issues and also technical problems) which seemed to take a hit on consumers perceptions of the brand – particularly in May (and into June).

According to data from BrandVue, Savanta’s daily brand tracking tool, 53% of consumers associated easyJet with being “attractively priced” during the early weeks in May. But come June, this had plummeted to 29%. We also saw a decrease in the number of consumers who believed easyJet to be a “trusted” brand (-9 points).

Preference – which measures the percentage of respondents who state a brand is one of their favourites – also decreased by 5 percentage points during this time, as did the number of consumers who claimed they would consider using the brand (falling by 11%).

Positive Buzz also fell sharply, and Negative Buzz increased from 12% to 27% – a staggering shift which doesn’t take place without reason.

Turbulent times

Unsurprisingly, these drops in metrics coincide with the airline’s cancelling of more than 200 flights during the last week of May – the UK’s school half term week – a peak travel period in the aviation calendar.

In a public statement, the budget airline insisted that these measures were “necessary to provide reliable services over [the] busy period”.

But this decision put hundreds of holiday plans in jeopardy, leading to understandable frustration, as well as hefty queues at Gatwick – which didn’t escape criticism either, as its Negative Buzz increased more than twice as much during this time (5% to 12%).

Before the mass cancellation, easyJet announced a motion to remove multiple seats from certain aircrafts, in a bid to reduce the number of cabin crew needed.

A domino effect

Unfortunately, staffing is a wider problem that has been facing even the most esteemed airlines. British Airways made as many as 10,000 staff members redundant during the pandemic but began to feel the effects of this measure shortly after travel restrictions were eased.

With staff numbers lower than ever, Britain’s flag carrier found it wouldn’t be able to follow through on proposed flight schedules – particularly in July 2022, when the airline axed another 650 flights. Subsequently, between July and August, the number of consumers associating British Airways with being ‘reliable’

However, BrandVue data shows signs of easyJet bouncing back in consumers’ eyes with the brand since seeing improvements in Positive Buzz, as well as Preference and Consideration.

But British Airways hasn’t quite seen the same level of improvements since these major drops in performance. Perhaps consumers are still angered by the flag carrier’s attempts to poach competition’s staff for a £1,000 sign-on bonus (or maybe if you are a premium brand with a reputation built around quality and reliability it just takes longer to bounce back after you let people down).

The final destination

Life’s best teachers are born from the worst of mistakes – and for the sake of actually making it past the border this summer, we can only hope this proverb rings true.

Perhaps the hasty axing of staff will serve as a positive wake up call for the airlines (and for any other industries that face a downturn over the coming months), so as to avoid meeting the same fate as the airline industry did last year, it is easier to cut trained staff than it is to recruit them!

An improved service might not make up for last year’s miseries – but at least it will get you to your destination.

…unless of course, the recession has other plans.

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