Dear DLD Lufthansa Technology Forum … if you ask for participation, you should publish it as well …


Heiko pinged me shortly after posting and we are trying to find out, where in the system the posting got lost. If everything fails, I will make a printout ;)

The problem: you can’t see that from the outside and if you are on the inside you need external notice. With postings going through before and after from different people it is hard to determine. What was that saying again? Never assume malice but assume you need to blame on a computer.

(Heiko for example ran into something similar with my blog, running into a spam filter. Trying to fix that now. )

Lufthansa is being one of the sponsors for DLD and given how many interesting, well travelled people will be arriving, they thought of asking the question

So our question to you is:
In view of modern rail travel concepts, what innovative ideas and visions must the aviation industry implement in order still to be attractive in 15 years’ time?

Please discuss this with us. The findings of this Internet forum will be posted on the DLD site 20-22 January 2008. Lufthansa will reward the best suggestions, and the winner will receive two Business Class tickets for our worldwide route network.

We look forward to a lively discussion and many creative suggestions from you.

While I was highly disappointed not to see any participation of Lufthansa and only from a few people (namely Brad Templeton, Jeff Jarvis and Steve Lavi), I took some hours (on my birthday mind you) to give my input plus reflect on what the others had said before and participate.

The tickets are a nice touch (though I do not fly LH) but my main interest was to have a conversation. The comment was over 3K words and I thought about publishing it here as well, but then decided not to, as it belongs more to the context of that site.

With only a few more days away, I though I have a look about what others might have added to my comment, but to my utter surprise, my comment is nowhere to be seen. I don’t know if it just went into spam, or was not published due to the content or whatever. Dissappointing.

So that is a discussion not really happening. Thankfully we do have blogs and comments of our own, so have a look at: Brad Templeton’s ideas on transportation and Jeff’s “The social flight” and “Taking flight — and fixing it” – including a real conversation.

As I say below – you may not like it, but we are already talking about you.

[If you can’t be bothered about the asked question itself, you should though hit “next” on your feedreader right now. ]

Note: The answer relies heavily on previously posted entries of Lufthansa Technology Forum.

Simple question, simple answer. “Make the customer happy and they will happily throw money at you”

In many ways I am hesitating to give the answers, as you should really get yourself a good consultant crew and pay for it. Even just in the area what you call Web / Social media which is my area of expertise, even answer would need way more thought and process than just some answers in a forum to form a strategy out of.

Why I think this way? Simple. Because except posing this question, nobody has cared to chime in with thoughts and questions. Nor in the places where the discussion has continued, like for example on Jeff’s blog. For just asking a question and hoping that the audience will be happy on their own is a very outdated way of communication, people already deal with this lack of interaction from your side, see my remarks about flyertalk etc below. And yes, you can have such a conversation even as a company.

I have to be the naive dreamer that I am to think that any of what we are writing will have a noticeable impact. Because in order to put these thoughts into a strategy, one would need to understand why they are mentioned. You not answering is partly proof of that. Just like somebody who never flies a plane has a hard time discussing the development in aeronautics (that would be me, and I hope I at least got that analogy right).

Put together with such a typical cloud in the sky question from upper management it deserves the simple shiny ‘everything will be perfect’ answer.

Which is disappointing to think of, because the management should be on the top of their game about devising a strategy around this for the future on their own. Be ahead of whatever we are thinking.

There is no easy answer. Deal with it.
As said, this question could be answered by a cool new mission statement, but as the world is not that simple; you will need to deal with more complex answers. Which of course are all influenced by our own viewpoints and desires, mine is not different.

It is to your credit that you ask the question here, and I hope that you understand the message that you do get from all of the answers: Yes, you are behind. Do your homework. Get help.

Because nobody expects you to come up with that on your own, ‘we’ know none of you can. Well, in a perfect world you would at least start your homework on your own, but then again, you are not the only one.

How much will I pay extra?
I am well aware of the balance of cost, profit for you and what I pay and get out of the equation. Then again, I want airlines – and I actually do not care if this is Lufthansa or not – to recognize that my world is revolving around me and only me. I am sick and tired of having to bow down to ‘their’ optimizations and logistics, when they more or less easily could be made in a way that would work for both sides.

The answers above me, especially from Brad, are nice ideas for the future but seem to share a massive increase in technology and expenses for personal mainly to areas where the airline has nothing no power in. So those are good ideas, but addressed to the wrong part of the process. Plus very expensive, while at the same time no indication is made if doubling or trippeling the price is acceptable for these additional benefits or not.

I for example could care less about booze on the plane – something some people insist very strongly on – because I do not enjoy drinking. Having a coffee latte on board though, now we are talking! Internet on the plane is great, but I get nausea every time I fly so even listening to radio is hard for me. So why should I pay with my ticket for these benefits? I don’t need them! Rather than having an overall price increased, I prefer that other people who want it get charged much more. And I think this is workable.

And as much as I choose my flights based on the size of the seat, others do on different amenities. Why not have certain flights with guaranteed free Internet? Maybe just on the main routes. There will be small to zero need for a “Mallorcabomber” to have Internet and probably 100% need on a JFK-NYC flight.

Everybody has different needs and interests
The thing we probably agree on: Everybody is different, competition is rising and more and more customers are aware that they, as an individual, count. If I have a bad experience with an airline, it counts. Because I have a voice. (and as customers rather complain than praise … the old saying of every dissatisfied customer tells at least 10 people can be multiplied by dozens if not thousands in time of blogs etc.)

For me as a customer there is a difference between things I want and things I think should be done for everyone. I accept in certain areas that this is something only I might want.

Airlines per se need to make sure that they understand the customer, because for me as the pax I blame everything on you. If I travel my usual BA/AA to NA, and go through the hell of LHR because it is the fastest way for me, I blame BA/AA. If I would fly LH, it would be LH. When in all cases it should be BAA. But the airline is what I relate to.

Therefore I expect the airline (even more so if I am a ff), to take my complains and concerns seriously and act with their power. Example: The new 787 I think it said to have a direct connection between the control of the plane and the passenger LAN. A *nightmare*! I as a single person have no power, the ordering airlines have.

I want to make use of my network for my benefit
The usual win win argument. Make me happy and you will be happy. Jeff’s idea of networking is nice and has it’s benefit, though I would like to add that we should not put that ‘flea of an idea’ as we call it in Germany of your own social network to an airline. Airlines should discover that this is not their main business and push the current ideas around open social and data portability to allow me on the platform I am already on to connect even further.

[I assume most of you are not on Xing, which for example for Germany and Europe is *the* one and only sns.] Jeff’s idea of socializing is one of the “you but not me” examples – I don’t care much about automated discovery and ‘socializing’ like this, but I do care about having these kind of information working with my existing network.

Every time I am involved in a conference there is a lot of talking around how to get there, how to get to the airport, which hotels to use etc. If one airline works at making me happy, it will only work for customers of one airline, maybe the alliance. But other than that it fails. Because the airline is only interested in them and not in me, I use something else.

And learn that actually I get more information out of my network than with the company. There is no connection with that airline. The theory of weaker ties applies here as well.

The customers are already talking
Customers already talk. You can see it in the blogs mentioned here, and other forums are there as well. People do not only exchange information but also provide information that should be provided by the airline. Not fancy stuff but simple stuff like “would you like to download this to your computer, it is all the information you need to have with you when you travel through this airport”. Not 50 clicks on my web page, access which I often do not have, but handy simple information.

I am not even sure that the German side of LH is aware that the US LH has nominated a person to be liaison in the most important forum around frequent flyer, flyertalk, aptly named LHrelate if I recall correctly. This forum being one of the major ones in this was even subject to a white paper for I think Anderson consulting. It is easier to go through there and read the stickies to get information than from the airline itself.

Noticeable ESPECIALLY for the places where they screw up. Favorite answer? “Call again. You got an agent who has not finished their training yet”. Though I am flyertalk addict, I am fare from the level of most people there in knowledge. Still, the last three times when I booked my flights to the US with specific notes on when to fly and checking back if that would be this plane or not and which seat I would like to have, all three agents said “thank you, I learned a lot today” and wrote down several web addresses.

“This should be a basic question of any company or industry in the Internet era: ‘What do my customers know and how do I help them share that?'”

Brainstorming like Jeff mentions is already done. You can see it here; you can see it on any professional forum. The reason why so few people are answering here is simple – it is not the audience. Put that over to flyertalk (though with a better offering than here and with more guidance / facilitating the process or you will be dead right away) and you will have more feedback than you can handle.

Why do I need the internet instead of you providing me the info?
Why do I have to rely on third party sites like Seat Guru to get basic information about something very valuable to me, meaning sizes and pitches? Why do I need to use tools like the backend for ITA, farecompare, KVS and alike to find the information I should find on YOUR page?

Why do people use another airlines website even get an account there to have a better insight of the award situation on your airline? Why do I have to ask flyertalk colleagues about connections in and around the airport instead of finding the information on your site, the company I am paying money?

Most of the information could be gathered from an external company and be done for all the airports for all of the alliance partner etc to lower the costs. Start thinking of me first. I am the one with the money.

The frequent flier
Jeff also shows the benefit of frequent flyers and as he said, status is earned due to the benefits. Though I find it insulting to my intelligence and my money what is offered as ‘benefit’ for miles, like glass pears in exchange for gold. There could be many more offerings available if somebody would really dig into what would be worth for the customer to find.

I chose my airline due to my travel pattern and which kind of aircrafts I can fly. The decision was BA with AA as second partner, offering me a much higher value in flying. So I seldom fly Star Alliance but sometimes I do. As my middle tier status does not yield anything here, I would be interested in exchanging my miles for a voucher to visit the lounge. Not spend high amounts of miles to second best goods. Simple as that. You can even put a limit on that to ensure nobody misuses this like only when you do not have status you can buy that with miles etc. But that would be worth something and is much easier to implement than complicated “order this newspaper and get 10K miles” offerings. (again: perception. I do not see this as an offering of a newspaper but of the airline).

Frequent flyers are your evangelists (you might want to look that up in what they do in this Web 2.0 sphere). They convert people to fly your airline – not because those others care, but because they know the system. The normal person though is stranded. Hence they turn to a place of knowledge. Several friends now use the ITA backend first, though they do not understand it very well. But they did understand that this is delivering a decent way with expert options to get the information they want.

There is iirc a podcast from you. And oh how much do you prove what Jeff said about you not even on the first steps of this. But what is there for your evangelists? Nothing. (Again, I assume you don’t even know about the baby step of Michelle being liaison of flyertalk. Flyertalk has around 160K registered members with 9 million postings).

The money instead of being spent on a fancy fake podcast towards nearly no recognition besides schadenfreude (the customers you reached through that have no clout of their own) could have gone into basic steps towards working with existing communities at much higher revenue.

Your evangelists also manage their friends’ travel. When I go to a conference, I will look up my options. And as soon as I do, I will make sure to let my contacts know what I found or where. A hotel in Berlin was wondering why it was full – simple there was a barcamp and a conference in town around the corner and we provided everyone with this address because it had wifi. People ask in twitter for help about connection issues and get helped by more experienced flyers. They will take what they get recommend, no matter the airline. They will however learn to pick up the ffp that works best with their travel also according to their friends. (In case of flying star alliance in Europe, the choice for that seldom is LH btw.)

Acknowledge that there is an international connected market
The minute promotions are send out or sales appear they are announced around the world, in LH example it does not even needs to be in English, people will be notified. If problems arise at an airport, you can be sure that in the hub airports you will have notification around the world in minutes. For the connected ones. But we connected ones talk. A lot. After a while people will start asking if there is something to take notice off.

Again, as over and over there is the theme: Customers do not talk to one company because they always always get information that only is in the scope of interested to that company. And not customer oriented. I do care about me, you care about you. I am the one with the money; you are one of many with the transportation.

Do not reinvent the wheel.
LH is an airline. Period. I want an airline to actively work with partners and stay away from things they have no clue about. Example Bahn. If I arrive at Muc, why would I have to fetch for Euros, run to a ticket counter to get the S-Bahn? Why can’t I book that with the system?

I am aware that this does not work in all markets and it contradicts a bit my question from before why the home market is stronger, but public transportation like this is essential for my travel. Not for all people, but for some – and especially has been top notch in all those areas for over a decade.

Also no own social network, but work together with people who have a clue. And let them do there their job. Provide them with the help needed for them to make the life of customers easier.

An example for working aggressively with partners would be to define a way to allow even more services like tripit to take the data and process them. (Tripit allows me to send the confirmation mail of airlines and hotels etc to it and it will build up MY itinerary of every company in one place. Great idea. Just too US centric, I would love something in Europe, but as a start it is great.

Simple things I would want too
I prefer Air Berlin to LH for two things: The planes look cleaner and they go to great length to ensure that middle seats are filled last. The last one really is the kicker. And really hard to implement … I choose BA/AA for their better offering of seats. Though AA is stupid too – I have to choose to get decent information about the best flights from Europe.

I want airlines to realize that while they are best on their home market, they should not dismiss the rest of the European market. This is true for LH in other countries as much as it is for BA for me. Dozens of offerings for the home crowd, nothing for the ones in the countries next to them. Same with LH: Offerings to the home market, few or nothing for outside.

I see those offerings and so do customers. And they see that while they also pay the same prices, a lot of energy does not go towards them. I want what they are having. Take from my experience from BA: I do not need a German page or special German offerings. I would be satisfied if there would be a general European side, because for me there no difference between flying from LHR/FRA/CDG etc, as I start in Hamburg.

Us talking into the void
These are some of my thoughts, put together and taking up quite some time. Presenting of course in some areas my own view point, my own interests and things probably only I care about.

Nonetheless, me and my colleagues here have invested our precious time. We are still waiting for the promised conversation.

Hint: Next week, you will have in the crowd top-notch people from all kind of areas, and I strongly encourage you to get into conversations with as many of us as you can.

Btw: Different than last year I would like to meet at least one person of LH at DLD, which provides me with the feeling that they really are interested in getting better and make things happen – and not just be there for some publicity reasons.

That would be a welcomed change.


4 Responses to “Dear DLD Lufthansa Technology Forum … if you ask for participation, you should publish it as well …”

  1. Florian says:

    I’d like to read more contributions to the Lufthansa DLD debate as well, if that’s what it was. Amusingly, nobody seems to have really referred to the first part of the question (“In view of modern rail travel concepts…”) Modern Rail Travel concepts? Outside France, Germany and Japan not really very modern I suspect, and definitely outside the experience of Americans ;-). And yet, Eurostar marketshare LON-PAR is >60% or so, and nobody would consider taking a plane from Nürnberg to Munich these days…

  2. One reason I wrote some of these future ideas is that LH specifically posed the question of competing with trains over the next 15 years. I can see many ways to improve the travel experience that you note above, and which Jeff touched on, but many of them are things the trains can do just as well or in some cases better.

    I contend that largely it will still come down to time. That’s really the primary, in some cases only thing an airline can beat the train on. The trains win just about every other category, or can win the category should they elect to spend money on it. (For example, first class service on some airlines is very good, but costs many thousands.) Your suggestion of easing the airline to train transfer is a nice one — because it saves time — but of course is what the trains already work hard on.

    One way to examine this question is to ask yourself for a short haul trip, when would you choose air over train? Would you ever choose the plane if it took longer than the train? Would you ever choose it if it took the same time? How much less time does the plane have to take to make you take it? What could the airline do that the train can’t do to change that margin of time?

    I can think of only a few. The planes could fly at a more convenient time, since what you care about is duration of trip related to your desired arrival time at your final destination. But that’s pretty arbitrary, the luck of picking the schedules.

    The non-stop plane can be a less bumpy, interrupted experience than the train, which for various economic reasons usually makes stops, which many find distracting. But if trains want to, they can do that too. Ever ridden the Nozomi in Japan? Non stop, always smooth and no announcements in the cars. (Both trains and planes blab way too much.) And yes, there are places planes can get to far more easily than trains, but in the European short haul market, which is what LH cares about, these are few.

    No, the 3 top reasons to fly are time, time and time. Rail is the most energy efficient — though the most land-inefficient — but with the rails already paid for, rail will win on cost.

    So answering their question is all about looking at the time flows and critical paths that are making a nightmare of air travel, I think.

  3. Hi Nicole,

    I wanted to clarify that while the initiative was on the US side, FRALH is aware of my involvement with FT. While it may be a “baby step” I am so far pleased with the results.

    This was a thoughtful post. Agree that disappointingly it was probably some technical issue on DLD’s side which prevented its earlier publication.

    Kind regards,
    Michelle Schiff
    aka LHrelate

  4. Nicole says:

    And she does some google searches too ;)) I don’t see this as baby step – from ‘this’ side of what can be done it is a baby step, yes. In regards to a company like LH, it is a major step, even if it ‘only’ comes from the US daughter. ;)