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Brands that soar

Air passenger traffic is growing dramatically and airlines – both low-cost and full-service – are challenging fiercely to capture a larger market share. Competing influences are impacting CX; on the one hand, recent record industry profitability is resulting in significant re-investment in aircraft and product; and on the other, congestion and disruption is rising, which negatively impacts a key aspect of the passenger experience. Finding ways to continue to delight passengers and reduce travel friction will be key.

Like the planes they operate, airlines always face headwinds – and never more than today. Airports in both the mature and the emerging markets are congested. Current geopolitics does not bode well for trade, and the movement of people, particularly at the premium end of the market, may be negatively impacted in terms of demand and / or price.

Yet the pressure to evolve is unrelenting. It’s not just that competition is driving an ongoing desire for operational and asset efficiency. It’s also that customer expectations are continuously changing. Passengers are looking to their frictionless digital experiences in other areas of their lives and carry those same expectations into the sector. Customers expect a seamless integration of the whole air travel experience, door to door, and for it to be (at least) as good as the last – regardless of what carrier they use.

Our research shows that it is possible for some airlines to soar above the rest. This report is filled with airlines that are finding ways to differentiate and deliver amazing customer experiences according to respondents to the research.

Full service carriers are:

  • Investing into their ‘hard product’: Most carriers are ramping up their investment in new aircraft, both as a way to drive down costs and to deliver the experience their customers expect. Capturing share of wallet of the premium segment is critical to the overall financial returns of many of these carriers. New technologies and on-board capabilities complement these product improvements, such as the on-going expansion of premium economy at the premium end of the market.

  • Leveraging data and digital: The leading carriers embrace digital to remove friction from the customer journey. They are using data to improve the CX both on and off the aircraft – from better personalization of the booking and check-in process through to augmenting on-board staff with up-to-date customer data.

  • Focusing on operational performance: no matter the bells and whistles, on-time performance remains the most critical success factor in airline customer satisfaction. The leading carriers are working with their supply chains and airports to proactively minimize disruption and to introduce new technologies such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) for baggage handling.

"Demand for air travel is booming in the emerging markets and this is creating space for new competitive ideas and models to develop. The airlines featured in our hall of fame are often the ones thinking more creatively about how ‘value’ can be created in passenger travel."

Malcolm Ramsay,
Global Head of Aviation, KPMG International

Low cost carriers are:

  • Delivering value for money: Whilst driving down real unit costs is critical, the top-ranked brands for CX were not always the lowest-cost. But they were viewed as delivering the best value for money. Low-cost carriers are also upgrading their inventory of aircraft, with a particular focus on narrow bodied models that will allow them to improve overall unit costs.

  • Rebalancing their footprints: With competition on major routes squeezing margins, and new airports in the emerging markets creating fresh demand, many low-cost carriers are rethinking their routes. Opportunities to capture some new long-haul routes with new technology aircraft between Asia, America and Europe will be balanced against the need to remain on high-demand routes and destinations.

  • Automating for efficiency: Low-cost carriers are investing in digital and intelligent automation capabilities as a way to improve efficiency, create new ancillary revenue streams and drive down costs. The leaders are those that are combining the use of automation with improvements in digital engagement.

The big ‘external factor’ influencing CX in this segment is the airports themselves. Finding ways to work with airports to grow capacity (either through new capital investments or efficiency improvements), to reduce passenger friction (particularly through check-in and security) and to enhance the CX (perhaps through additional ancillary services options) will be vital.

The brands in our hall of fame have reputations for creating outstanding experiences in the eyes of respondents to this research. The services they offer today have already become table stakes and they will continue to raise the bar and indeed set the standard for all other sectors.

Airlines hall of fame

Air New Zealand

New Zealand


UK, Hong Kong (S.A.R.), China



JetBlue Airways









Hong Kong (S.A.R.), China, New Zealand, Singapore



Virgin Atlantic