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
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
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