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I'd like to take an earlier flight home! How easy is this with easyJet’s plus card?

As I recently found myself stuck at Gatwick again for a few hours I began to wonder about whether easyJet’s plus card really is as beneficial as it claims to be.  It’s not the first time I’ve found myself at Gatwick with the potential of getting an earlier flight home but been thwarted by a combination of poor procedures and a lack of focus on what customers really want. 

 Source: vccp.com

Source: vccp.com

For a mature LCC, offering a product which promotes loyalty is a no-brainer. On the face of it easyJet’s plus card does just that. If you travel roughly once a month on the airline, as I do, and you want to be able to book a preferred seat the card will have paid for itself over the course of a year. What else does it offer? Speedy boarding, fast track security, extra hand luggage and the opportunity to “take an earlier flight home” if you need to.  I’m curious how often easyJet customers are able to take up the last of these as it has never worked for me.  It might be that Edinburgh-Gatwick is uniquely busy, but I doubt it.

I know easyJet overbooks its flights. With average return fares a week out from travel listed at £50-60 on most of their UK domestic routes why wouldn’t they? Like many others, with fares at that level, I’ve been known to book a ‘spare’ ticket just in case my meeting overruns.  Any chance to maximise profit is something shareholders expect and something a commercial business strives for. However, when you’ve become a big player – according to OAG, 41% of capacity at Gatwick is operated by easyJet this summer - you need to take care that your operation still delivers on its promises to customers.

I genuinely value the easyJet plus card benefits, allowing me to speed through security and select the seat I want. Often that’s the deciding factor for me between choosing to fly with easyJet or a competitor, but I’ve never managed to benefit from the ”take an earlier flight home” option.  My recent experience is not unusual. My meeting finished early and I approached the customer service desk to be told the flight was full, and indeed overbooked by 7 passengers.  I queried whether they expected all of these passengers to actually turn up and after the agent made a few calls to other departments, I was told to come back just before the earlier flight closed, come straight to the front of the queue and they’d do their best to get me on board. 

Taking my life in my hands (we don’t like people who don’t queue properly in Britain) I skipped the queue and approached the desk to be met with a flat refusal:  all passengers had checked in and the flight was overbooked.

This got me thinking as I whiled away 4 hours until my actual flight, if overbooking is the norm, and people check in with no intention to fly because fare levels on UK domestic routes allow them to purchase multiple flights, does anyone ever get on to the earlier flight home?  I fly often enough to know that it’s unlikely the earlier flight took off with a full load, in which case is the potential benefit ever realised? 

In the world of big data, surely there’s a flow of live information as the time towards a flight closing approaches, allowing the customer service staff to make real decisions about how many people have actually gone through security and arrived at the gate.   In a world where customer experience of LCC and Legacy carriers is muddied - but not to the extent that LCCs accept standby passengers, or are geared up for them - is easyJet making the right choices?

The easyJet plus card is a good example of the blurring of lines between the low-cost business model and the legacy airline business model but demonstrates the risks for an airline trying to be all things to all people.

 

Deirdre Fulton