BY In 2014, nearly one quarter (23.8 percent) of U.S. flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes, according to the Chicago Tribune. Those delays added up to an additional 80 million extra minutes of travel time to complete — or 12,000 extra years in transit delays! — across 6 million domestic flights, FiveThirtyEightreports. For airlines, travel delays are a serious obstacle to building and maintaining customer loyalty, even though such disruptions are often outside an airline’s control. Fortunately, increasingly sophisticated technology is giving airlines the ability to improve the customer experience during all phases of the passenger journey. The following are strategies for managing and maintaining positive traveler experiences that should be key to any airline decision maker’s list of responses when dealing with the reality of flight disruptions. Optimize Flight Operations With Data From fleet monitoring and passenger-boarding strategies to unplanned weather and airport-related events, flight operations are complex. Air travel delays put passengers and airlines in a tight place. Today’s data analytics allow flight-operations managers to address these factors, and tech tools are minimizing air travel delays and putting the power of longer-range maintenance and conditions-forecasting in airline leadership’s hands. That means fewer delays and better information for travelers, helping to mitigate the unwelcome surprise. Powerful tools can provide airlines with integrated data that reach across all facets of airport, crew management and flight operations. Streamlined just-in-time information facilitates faster coordinated responses to complex operational challenges. This leads to faster solutions, reducing frustrating delays and cancellations. When flight disruptions are unavoidable, today’s technology solutions give you the means to re-accommodate passengers quickly and efficiently. Reach Passengers on the Devices They Use When it comes to airline travel, Reuters points out that much of passengers’ frustration comes from a lack of information. Keeping travelers apprised of delays and other issues as early as possible eases the stress. Mobile technology makes this simpler than ever, especially since airline passengers are early adopters of mobile. As ClickZ recently reported, some 46 percent of leisure travelers and 61 percent of business passengers check into flights via smartphone apps. Now, a big percentage of travelers who use mobile travel apps are moving into wearable devices like the Apple Watch and Google Glass, according to a study by TripCase. Your go-forward strategy is to communicate with customers when and where they need it, on the devices of their choice. Smart airlines are partnering with providers of mobile trip-planning apps to put real-time information into travelers’ hands. (In 2014, more than two-thirds of mobile communication to TripCase users consisted of timely updates on airline schedule changes.) In doing so, they’re driving brand loyalty by connecting to customers when it matters most. In turn, mobile platforms give you greater insight into your customers, allowing you to be more responsive to customer preferences. Compensate in Innovative Ways Responsiveness can also include creative ways of compensating passengers for disrupted air travel outside the aircraft and airport. Forward-leaning airlines are working to further integrate automatic car and hotel re-bookings as delay compensation. One European airline now automatically re-books a passenger’s flight if the bus connecting them to the airport terminal is delayed. Innovations like these are the kind that savvy airline decision makers recognize as best practices. Create (Positive) Shareable Stories You have the power to create compelling narratives when flights go wrong, but it takes a nuanced approach. Frustrated travelers often take to social media with angry posts, but management can reshape these experiences. Creating loyalty-building moments out of delays can start with a simple refund and then expand to awarding loyalty-program points or purchase vouchers. Sometime simply engaging with customers on social media is enough to earn loyalty. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 70 percent of companies ignore consumer tweets. However, when companies do respond — and the study calls out the success American Airlines has had using its social media tools in this way — it can be a way of showing empathy for the customer. Empathy goes far beyond simply solving the problem, as it makes the traveler feel heard and valued. You should view every interaction, and this includes angry tweets, as an opportunity to create a rapport with customers and encourage future brand loyalty.