A hard internal look helps companies deal with external pressures

Many of us are familiar with Heraclitus’ famous phrase, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Undoubtedly this can be applied to the airline industry and the changing air service offerings in our region, brought on by industry consolidation, stubbornly high fuel prices and the lingering effects of the great recession.

These changes have been accelerating for the past decade. There were 10 major U.S. airlines in the early 2000s. Today, there are four.

Consolidation isn’t all bad, though. The airlines are financially stable, their route networks are now global and there is a renewed focus on customer experience.

Outside forces

Consolidation, fuel costs and the recession also have led to medium-sized hub closures across the country, including Cleveland. This change in hub status, however, hasn’t cut our region off from the global air travel network. With 4.2 million people in our region, it is an attractive air market regardless of whether there is a hub here or not. United Airlines still offers service from both Cleveland Hopkins International and Akron-Canton airports, and other airlines have stepped up, too, adding flights and destinations.

That is good news for business travelers from smaller companies who are looking for convenient flights and lower fares. Vacation-oriented carriers have added service at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, stimulating new demand and helping to fill the void left by United’s hub closure.

These external conditions have significantly influenced our business at Akron-Canton, making it increasingly important to focus on managing our expenses while enhancing the customer experience. With so many choices in air travel, a single poor experience could discourage someone from using us again. So, how do we keep customers coming back while keeping costs in check?

Making adjustments

We start by not allowing our organization to become too big at the top. We need adequate staff to properly steward the airport, of course. But during this time of uncertainty, we haven’t added an administrator to our ranks. We have, however, bolstered our customer-facing and airfield safety staff — custodians, building maintenance, field maintenance and operations. The front-line employees truly take care of our customers and ensure a pleasant airport experience. Plus, we work very closely with our partners — airlines, courtesy shuttle drivers, dining and car rental — to guarantee that they also understand what makes our airport a better way to go for our customers.

We have also enhanced our customer engagement strategy, using social media to stay in touch. We love the two-way conversation. We listen and watch carefully, and often respond in real time to customer concerns. It is an inexpensive, yet vital strategy to keep customers coming back despite the shifting competitive landscape.

Air service in Northeast Ohio is changing, but our commitment to keeping our customers happy and our overhead low remains the same. We anticipate that the region will settle into a new normal in mid to late 2015. Plus, Northeast Ohio travelers still have nonstop options to the largest travel markets and lower fares from both Akron-Canton and Cleveland Hopkins. As the dust settles, we’re working to keep customers covered.