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Peter Knapp
Global Creative Officer,
based in Landor London

Trends in airlines

November 18, 2013

Has the enfant terrible of the airline industry, the street punk, aka the low cost carrier (LCC), finally grown up?

LCCs democratized air travel by creating a viable model with simple principles: one type of plane, economy class only, second-tier destinations, no allocated seats, no free food, no frequent flyer programs, no airport lounges. This format rocked the industry when it first came on the scene, but is it now so accepted that these cheap and cheerful flyboys are becoming part of the institution they once challenged?

Evolution of the punk

Once set up, most LCCs don’t spend on anything but the basics; to them, a brand is no more than a logo to stick on a plane. But in a market where prices are comparable, brand is a critical component of customer choice.

EasyJet and JetBlue are once again bucking the trend and challenging the very principles they helped establish. These two successful, innovative LCCs have invested heavily in brand and services to ensure they maintain relevance and make their difference evident. Both now offer business class products, seat assignments, and loyalty benefits. LCCs used to be famous for poor service, yet these two airlines are being feted for their efficient delivery.

As EasyJet and JetBlue jockey for middle ground in their respective territories, this new hybrid model could require legacy carriers and LCCs to rethink their game plans. It’s a tough market, and without change, the future could be bleak for less innovative airlines.

National carriers

National branding was once the bedrock of traditional carriers. Positive associations of country and safety were layered over the airline brand, coupled with customer-oriented benefits such as punctuality or impeccable service. 

But today, when a large part of the customer journey is online or automated, national characteristics are difficult to identify. EasyJet now describes itself as the airline for Europe, stripping away all hints of its British origin. If EasyJet and JetBlue are “stateless” carriers, what are the implications for national airlines? If the nationals respond with upgraded products, what does that mean for LCCs?

Advice to carriers

The advice we offer is: Evolve. In a competitive market where customer expectations grow higher every day, constantly refine your offer to ensure relevance and difference.

  • National brands need to radically reconsider the relevance of their brands in new world marketing.
  • LCCs need to treat their brands as drivers of preference rather than simple logos.
  • All airlines will benefit from focusing on face-to-face transactions—now one of the most critical touchpoints for expressing human values and differentiating the brand experience.




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