Passenger experience in a pandemic – Turkish Airlines.
With an airborne global pandemic still at large, it’s not a great idea to become airborne yourself by stepping on an airplane. However, our global lives know no boundaries, so we need to get used to flying even in this situation.
I've been traveling quite a bit over the past year and wanted to share some thoughts on the passenger experience in a pandemic.
Flying in the Time of Covid
This review was done in 2021, and after sitting in the drawer for a bit, it seemed like it might lose its timeliness. Sadly it is as relevant in early 2022 as ever, with the 4th and 5th waves of Covid around us, and the World Economic Forum even identifying infectious diseases in general as the 6th in its list of “most severe risks on a global scale over the next 10 years”.
Flying and pandemics need to co-exist. Turkish Airlines does an exemplary job at setting your mind at ease during flight, but a closer observation reveals the lack of an end-to-end approach and some strange choices.
When booking on their website, more curious users will find the “Rest assured when traveling during the pandemic” card below the booking, leading to a dedicated page. This seems nice, but the page heavily disappoints by listing a whopping 130 frequently asked questions.
Remember, when your FAQ has 130 questions, those are not frequent.
This smells more like a legal obligation than real customer centricity. Look at the page, it just goes on and on! How bad this page really is only became clear to me later. Read on...
The email also follows the pattern of the website, with little attention to the simplicity with which information is conveyed. Anything Covid-related is stuffed into the fine print, making it clear that this attention is more focused on the legal department than on the passengers.
On the bus
Traveling itself is not just a customer journey, it is an experience map involving multiple intertwined service providers. Turkish Airlines has little control over what happens in your cab or at the airport, so let’s start the physical journey on the shuttle bus.
Here, at last, Turkish Airlines’ Covid measures start to shine. They allowed far fewer people on a bus than usual (airport busses are often fully-packed). This was a clear sign calling attention to social distancing and reassuring me of the airline’s attention to the pandemic.
(Sidenote: I still cannot get over the fact that we collectively chose the expression “social distancing” instead of “physical distancing”, but now we have to live with this.)
In-flight entertainment system
In the "movies" section of the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, Covid got the top placement, and a list of videos are available for passengers.
What causes you to pause for a second is how people in the animated safety video are not wearing masks. While re-shooting a safety video would be high budget, adding masks to animated figures is easier, though still not easy.
But more important would be the debate: is this intentional, or not? Should we allow masks and general acknowledgment of Covid to seep into every aspect of our lives?
I believe Turkish Airlines did not make a mistake by leaving the safety video as-is, especially in the light of the next step...
TK Extra Care
This is where Turkish Airlines begins to shine. They made an extra safety video focused on Covid, and it tells the story in a professional manner, really showing what the carrier does to ensure passengers safety. The video makes invisible, behind-the-scenes safety efforts (like plane disinfection and air filters) become tangible. And to tell the story, they didn’t only make a video, they made a whole brand around it, calling it TK Extra Care! And they made a logo for it!! And got a celebrity to narrate it!!!
The celebrity face behind TK Extra Care is Dr. Oz. (I didn’t know this either, but TV personality Dr. Oz is of Turkish descent and has cooperated with Turkish Airlines in the past.)
Let’s stop for a second, and lament this choice. Sure, as a TV personality, he is well known, but at the same time, he is very controversial, leaning towards pseudoscience and alternative medicine.
I don’t mind him promoting Turkish Airlines in general, but he might not be the best choice of medical personality to have me rest assured in a pandemic already riddled with fake news and false claims. Despite his Turkish heritage and celebrity, Dr. Oz is probably not the right person for this job.
A disconnected web experience...
At this point, I realized I hadn't read about this TK Extra Care in either the 130-FAQ-long Covid page or in the booking confirmation email. So I went back and explored Turkish Airlines' website, and to my surprise, I found 5 pages about Covid!
- The TK Extra Care with Dr. Oz page
- The Traveling during COVID-19 pandemic page
- The Tips for safe travel page
- The Safe Flight Experience page
- And the already mentioned FAQ-laden What you should know about flying during the pandemic page
Some of these pages are linked, but some aren’t ... and even when they are, they include a lot of duplication. I can only speculate, but it feels like multiple departments in the company saw Covid as their own topic – and they each created efforts without coordination. As a confused passenger clicking between these 5 pages, I would not be reassured that efforts in execution are better coordinated than the website. However, they do have a Diamond-level Health Safety certification from the independent airline association APEX, and that is a good endorsement.
It was an awesome idea from Turkish Airlines to provide every passenger with a personal Hygiene Kit. This includes disinfecting wipes and masks, but a much more important ingredient is control: no matter how visible you make the invisible efforts, passengers are in a control-deprived situation when flying. Giving them an opportunity to do something themselves is super valuable on a psychological level.
The airline crew wearing a mask is now standard, so let’s not dwell on that. But the TK Extra Care program goes beyond this, as it includes a “Hygiene Expert” crew member. Sadly, there is no physical evidence of this crew member, nor any explanation of what that title includes or what the job entails. A missed opportunity for sure.
Airplane passengers often watch the in-flight entertainment system up to the point of disembarking. Turkish Airlines made a survey available after the landing announcement, which is a great way to capture passenger feedback. The survey was rather long, sadly, but included questions about health and safety – contrary to the photo I took, I gave them high marks.
I flew with multiple airlines during the pandemic, and Turkish Airlines is by far the best in its attention to Covid, or at least in communicating about it. Their inflight efforts are exemplary, with a lot of physical evidence to their behind-the-scenes efforts, plenty of personal passenger attention, and a great deal of focus on communication. However, various disconnected efforts, strange choices, some missed opportunities in physical-digital integration, and the multitude of web pages leave room for improvement. A great service nonetheless, and I hope other airlines follow suit!
All opinions expressed throughout this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Whitespace or its affiliates.