4 airlines compared – how was the customer experience?

Following my recent post were I confessed to being an Airmiles addict, here’s another post around my travels.  This time, I’m doing a very brief compare and contrast between 4 airlines I travelled on over a couple of days, the brevity between each flight allowing me to compare the 4 business class products, and highlight the customer experience wins and focus areas.

London to Madrid (Iberia): Charming, smiling, accommodating, the Iberia staff are generally lovely in business class. Chaotic, confusing, rushed is the feeling I got when boarding the plane. A delayed departure in the A320 aircraft, staff rushing about and as a result, no-one focusing on the customers.  No nice touches that you’d expect for a cabin full of businessmen heading off to Madrid for meetings, just a basic service and a grim meal, and no champagne (only cava.) Iberia has successfully transitioned from a loss making airline to turning a profit, but what has been sacrificed is the experience (at least on short-haul). Verdict: Iberia short haul business class is what standard economy used to feel like. Pleasant, but nothing special.

Madrid to Frankfurt (LAN Chile): Having changed terminal in Madrid and relaxed in a lounge, I was ready to board the next flight. This time, I was on a gorgeous 787 Dreamliner, designed for long haul flights (this was a flight from Chile, connecting in Madrid), so one might question how fair it is to compare to short haul aircraft.  Nevertheless, arriving at my flatbed seat, being served decent champagne, and fussed over by utterly charming crew, I felt spoiled. Delicious food, staff constantly present without being intrusive and a super-comfortable bed for 2 1/2 hours was a fantastic experience!  This was definitely luxury.  But beyond the aircraft, the staff were incredibly responsive and responsible, creating a sense of instant trust, warmth and respect.  Verdict: LAN Chile business class is an indulgent product with magical touches, and crew who genuinely care about the service they deliver.

Frankfurt to Helsinki (Finnair): Another lengthy terminal change and on to the next flight, with Finnair.  It was a small and intimate business class on the equally small A319.  As ever, when I climb aboard a Finnair flight, the staff are just what you want when on a plane. Calm, professional, but very warm and engaging. A tasty meal with a decent champagne, served with style and flair; Finnair feels like an airline that serves up a touch of glamour from another era. And it’s consistent in the experience, every time I fly. Verdict: Finnair, even on short haul delivers a consistent business class experience at a great price, always leaving me looking forward to my next flight with them.

Helsinki to London (British Airways): Next day, it was time to head home, with British Airways on an A321.  At the front of the cabin, British Airways invariably deliver a much better experience, but it can be very inconsistent.  The crew make or break the flight, and this time, they did not disappoint. Sometimes, they really nail it, getting the right mix of British Airways professionalism and cheeky charm, making the flight a whole lot more fun.  The meal was delicious, the champagne flowed and the crew shone.  As I left the plane, big smiles and warm goodbyes left me (on this occasion) glad to have wrapped up my experience with my national carrier. Verdict: When British Airways get it right, they create loyalty, my only regret is how inconsistent and unpredictable the experience can be.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and is based on a small number of flights (although I do over 50 long and short haul leisure flights each year.)  As with any customer experience, I am impressed by something new and different (LAN Chile), I am left indifferent by the unremarkable (Iberia), I feel frustrated by the inconsistent (British Airways) and I love the reliable (Finnair).  So thinking about your own customer experience, which airline experience might represent your business, and where would you like it to be?


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