The airline brand experience doesn’t start when the passenger finds their seat and pulls out the inflight magazine. It doesn’t start with a mobile boarding pass or airport-savvy iPhone app. Smart brands know the Transumer experience begins at home, even before the customer starts packing.
In an age where almost every traveller has an iPod or smartphone, podcasts are a relatively cheap way for brands to communicate with customers and make their trip smoother. Travel guides, language lessons and other relevant content can be downloaded at home and consumed on the go.
But while a few airlines are experimenting with podcasts, most brands have turned a deaf ear to them. Here are a few examples of what airline podcasts are, and what they could be.
British Airways created the Dr. Sleep podcast series in late 2007, which offers passengers advice on issues such as jetlag, fatigue, and “the business side of sleep.” Combine this with their audio/video travel destinations podcasts and they get the Grammy for best audio offering.
American Airlines sponsors Travel with Rick Steves, a weekly hour-long podcast that features in-depth city guides and special episodes like “International New Year’s Eve,” in which Steves discusses how different cultures celebrate the New Year. American also produced a motivational series called Power Lunch targeted at the business traveller, but it hasn’t been updated since 2007.
Delta Air Lines puts out weekly updates on its flight operations, in podcast form. These are very technical reports aimed at hardcore airline geeks.
Lufthansa, working with custom podcast producer BCD Travel, produces the Travelling with Experts series. Aimed at business travellers, it offers advice on cultural norms and safety in destinations like China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, the series is available only in German.
While most airlines have yet to see the podcasting light, a quick search of the Apple store reveals dozens, if not hundreds, of successful airline-related podcasts.
Ice Pilots NWT, based on a History channel TV series, follows a fictitious Yellowknife-based airline, providing behind-the-scenes interviews with the (fake) cabin crew. Why can’t a real airline do something like this? Cathay Pacific, for example, already has a “meet the crew” feature on its iPhone app.
Then there’s Betty in the Sky With a Suitcase, which chronicles the misadventures of a real-life air hostess for an unnamed “major American airline.” Her first podcast, “Monkeys and Tigers and Ghosts… Oh My!!!,” released in August 2005, involved troublesome monkeys in Bali, bugs and bats in Belize and tigers and ghosts in India! Today “Betty” has almost half a million podcast fans around the world and her own eBook.
So why haven’t more airlines joined the podcasting fray? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes…
Imagine when you book your flight to Paris, Air France sends you an email with links to downloadable content – “French for Beginners,” “An Introduction to Paris,” or “Doing Business in France.”
Once on the plane, you can hook up your iPhone to inflight Wi-Fi or a USB port, download a video tour of the best Parisian restaurants or listen to a conversation with your flight captain.
After the flight, you can keep up with your basic French lessons, and listen to the city guide as you cruise down the Champs-Élysées.
Carriers can integrate podcasts into mobile apps or social media platforms and have customers engaging with their brand long after their plane touches down.
Airlines encourage passengers to take the inflight magazine home with them; maybe it’s time they gave them something to take onto the plane, and listen to throughout their journey.